PRAYER IS THE ART OF LIVING
Prayer is a personal learning experience that becomes the art of living. I learned mine from my mother and grandmother. It has served me over eighty-four years. During that time, I have been exposed to painters, poets and writers that have turned prayer into an art. As a pastor, I did practice the art and felt myself wanting. In my public prayers, I was telling the all-knowing Lord what He should be about; when in reality, it was about what I should be about. Since my retirement from the pastorate, I feel more at home with the short form Jesus taught His disciples. Jesus, Himself, urged all men to pray and Jesus revealed very little what they should pray about. We shall mention some of the things while we travel together and I try to retrace my journey.
Prayer, for me, begins with kneeling. This too came from my mother during a time when our lives were being threatened. She would kneel mornings, evenings and in between. She was verbal when no one was around. A few times, I happened to listen in and it was all about her children, husband and family’s safety. I did copy her and kneeling has become a ritual for me. I feel very inadequate if I do not kneel briefly in the morning, before I dress and I get ready for the day. I feel very incomplete if I do not kneel in the evening before I go to bed. I do this, in reverence to our Creator that has granted me my life, and He has blessed me with a loving family. He also threw in a few material conveniences. I kneel often in silence, overwhelmed with speechless gratitude. I am humbled as to why the Lord God is mindful of me and has trusted me with so much that is dear to Him (Ps. 8).
I am a Christian and I am very thankful for believing in a deity that wants to hear from me. But, I also believe, that God hears those that keep on insisting that He does not exist. If they are so sure He does not exist, why then do they go to so much trouble trying to satisfy their unbelief? There were two special times, in my life, when I faced death and I had done little to honor God. He became alive to me and I begged Him to give me a second chance. Down the road, I faced death again and this time I was still disappointed, but I was no longer afraid. When we face death, we do face God and a little kneeling and praying makes the facing easier. I do not pray to get God’s attention; but, I do pray to get where I am going. Prayer, for me, is not a problem solver but a problem facer.
It is comforting to know that I am not traveling alone. In order to pray, I do not set time aside or make appointments with God. I take Jesus very literally, that He is with me all the time. The breath, within me, is life that God, the Creator, shares with me and with everyone else, including the atheist. God is “Spirit” or “Breath” that sustains everything that lives, including the universe. He lets his goodness and mercy shine on the good and the bad and God left the choice up to us. We can choose between what is right and what is wrong. Prayer helps me make the kind of choices that can be beneficial to us – I mean to others, as well as to me. It took me, some time, to learn how irrational and unfair my prayers were. I asked God to help my team to win and do something for our opposition to lose. One time, we played far better than our antagonist, but we lost. They had only two shots on goal and the ball just bounced into the net. No matter how skilful the players are, the ball does appear to have a mind all its own.
My statement, that I do not set aside time for prayer, is not against having a special time for prayer. I have those too. We all need a closet, a time with two or three, a Church, or a National Day of Prayer. All prayers are good and much needed. But in the midst of it all, I am an individual, who does not feel comfortable kneeling any place at a certain time, or standing on street corners. I do not stop my car or leave a room with people for prayer, because I am never removed from God. I simply whisper a prayer. In fact, I whisper many prayers because I am impulsive and need to curb my thoughts and feelings that could cause dissension. I am way too much in a hurry, going somewhere, and I prematurely do offer my suggestions. Prayer puts the breaks on me, and prayer has me think and even sleep over, before I get a clearer picture as to where I am going and what I ought to say and do.
Prayer has had an amazing impact on my disposition. It has mystic power over my mind and calming affects over my senses. It makes me feel as if I were surrounded by a cocoon – softly, and tenderly sheltering me from the outside world. Prayer, for me, is a call to seek refuge in the arms of the One who said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and troubled and I will give you rest.” At the onset of World War II, we ran out of places where we could hide. One night, our mother found a small hole where we, three lads, barely got in. Mother placed her body over us and we fell asleep. In the morning, a friendly face found us unharmed and marveled that we were not detected during the night. As a boy, I watched a hen guiding and guarding her chicks. When she found a worm, she made this cockling sound and the little ones ran to her and pulled on a rain worm. The sky darkened and the wind picked up and the mother hen became nervous. She cockled and she ran where she felt sheltered. She sat down and her little chicks snuggled under neat her and she covered them with her wings. I listened and heard them chirp their song of contentment. Our Lord Jesus made a similar offer to his people and that still holds for us today. He, too, wants to gather us under his wings and shelter us from the storms that troubles the world.
In the past, I have used prayer as if it were a tool to get things done. Jesus did tell us to ask, seek and knock. I did heavily lean on a persistent approach and I did wrestle with the Lord over things with some results that I have misinterpreted. The asking, seeking and knocking was not intended to get the attention of God, but our attention for each others’ needs. God does not need to be alerted. He is always ready to receive us. Even amongst ourselves a gentler and more tactful way can get greater results. During my summer breaks from college, I was sent to Northern Manitoba to a Church, without a pastor, and I had a parishioner that was totally against me. He stopped attending and went to the neighboring Church. But he raised good potatoes and I purchased ten bags for my family. I went back to college in Winnipeg and had given up on my potatoes. One night, I came home from school, and there he was in my parent’s living room with the potatoes already in storage. He requested of me to take him to a retired minister he liked very much. Their meeting was an eye opener for this novice. It began something like this, “You and I, we know these things,” – implying what could I possibly know? They were right. I did not know how to ask, seek or knock. He stayed over at my folk’s place for the night, and before we left, he had given $50.00 to the minister. I could not get a single Dollar all summer from the man. At that time, my disability check was less than one hundred Dollars a month, and so was my student salary.
There is a song, “It is not my brother, it is not my sister, but it is me Oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” I have been told that I needed to pray about certain things others disagreed with me. I did not take it too well, and it, too, was not the way I should have responded. Even if the suggestion comes from people we cannot relate with, something can be gleaned from the encounter. It is a very sensitive area because we resent others poking their noses into our private affairs. People that have things to hide become very defensive and even hostile. Yet, in this world, we are our brother’s keeper. His well-being or his misfortune does affect my loved ones and me. The tendency to defend myself against dogmatists is very real; but, to exit quietly or hit the dust is far more productive. People that have tried to change my mind with a crowbar have severely damaged my mind, but they did not change my mind. Change came slowly like the soft rain in the spring. I watched it wash off the debris the winter had left and how it softened and warmed the earth for the new seed to sprout. The freeze and the frost disappeared and a new landscape emerged. Prayer has had a similar affect on me. It softens my attitude toward those that are fixed in their ways and beliefs. To avoid being trampled on, it is better to be humiliated by turning the other cheek, and by walking an extra mile. During the occupation of Germany, a cousin and I traveled in the Russian Zone and we had to get to a train that was ten kilometers away from our two uncles. Every time we saw the headlights of a vehicle approaching, we jumped into the ditch. We did not mind getting dirty and wet just to avoid being apprehended and shipped to Siberia.
In the pastorate, I was impatient with people whom I had asked to do something and they would tell me that they had to pray about it. Some never stopped praying, but some did come to my aid. Now that I am retired, I too have relied on prayer to get me off some tasks. I am no longer as anxious as I was with my “yeses.” It takes me longer to commit, not because I am slower due to aging; but, I am more cautious to what I am getting into. It was when I did not consult my inner self, in prayer, that I made bad choices. Our minister that married us counseled, that in case of disagreements, we should sleep over it. It was not the best advice. The advice Paul gave was, “make up before you go to bed and then meditate on how not to repeat or get hung up over the same issue.” But even better is not to be so persistent on one’s point of view. We fuel the fire of disagreement when we tell our mate, or the other person, that we are going to pray for them. I have begun to say, “thank you” to such prayers, and stay out of their way. I would like to retaliate, as I did when I was much younger, and I did leave some serious scars. One time, while I was still in Seminary, I was talking about prayer and suggested to write down some things so we would not forget. A lady came up to me and told me that the Holy Spirit would tell us what to pray. I asked her whether the Holy Spirit instructed her to tell me this? She walked away humiliated, and I felt as if someone had slapped my face. It was not the way one says “thank you,” even if it punctured my pride. And that is an area where prayer is very helpful; namely, coping with pride.
Prayer, for me, has become a self-analysis. Whether we like it or not, prayer above all things, is self–centered. It is about “us” and about “me.” It is about what can I get. It is this particular desire or want that had to change in me. I want prayer to aim at me and not for me. I want it to bring out of me that part that can give rather than receive. I am not here for me, but I am here for you or for someone else. I can bury myself in myself and be of no use to any one else. The truth is that I alone have enough disappointments, concerns, problems and worries to keep a crowd praying for me. I can allow my problems loom larger than any one else’s problem. I used to make my living with my hands, but a fire disabled my hands. I spent 18 months in Toronto General Hospital and recovered so that I was able to walk out on my own. In the same hospital there was a young man on a stretcher for twenty years with no chance to recover or even sit up. My problems, though severe, were minor to his. While I was in college, a young lady that went to public school with me during the German occupation was troubled and wanted to share some things with me. At that time, I was so full of myself and was going to tell her of my problems; but for some reason, I chocked and could not tell her anything, except that she should pray. Later I learned that this unfortunate girl had fallen into the clutches of the Red Army and was shamefully abused. My experience was nothing in comparison to hers.
Someone had a sense of humor that causes me to dim the lights about my troubles. A man from Jamestown went to heaven and Saint Peter asked him to say something during his welcome reception. The man wanted to know whether he should mention the flood he went through? Peter said that he could but he might tune it down a bit for Noah would be in the audience. Prayer helps me look into my heart. Prayer does remind me that I am in this world to free people from their burdens and troubles; and not bury them with my own. I do pray with King David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence; and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation; and uphold me with your free Spirit” (Ps. 51:10-12). Prayer has been my helpful companion. It has given me time to meditate, think and analyze my intentions to act. A plantation owner and his slave were in a carriage when a severe storm overtook them. The owner ordered his slave, “Pray Sam, pray!” Sam replied, “Master, I did my praying before the storm.” It is not a bad idea to start a journey – any journey with prayer. Prayer does ensure that our footsteps on solid ground. It does not hurt to kneel at eighty-four or at any age.