"Prayer as an Avenue to Understanding God"

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." Romans 8:26-27

"This passage of Romans about the Spirit interceding for us 'with sighs too deep for words' belongs to the most mysterious of Paul's sayings. It expresses the experience of a man who knew how to pray and who, because he knew how to pray, said that he did not know how to pray. Perhaps we may draw from this confession of the apostle the conclusion that those amongst us who act as if they knew how to pray, do not know how at all." Paul Tillich, "The Paradox of Prayer," The New Being.

The way in which we pray and the way in which we understand prayer may tell us more about what we believe about God than we care to admit. The physical aspects of prayer are primary indicators. Kneeling, bowing, closing eyes, standing, sitting, raising hands, folding hands, speaking, thinking -- they all tell something about the person to whom the prayer is addressed.

The content of prayer is also indicative of the theology of the pray-er. There are prayers of confession, prayers of intercession, prayers of contrition, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of adoration, prayers of petition. What we ask for, give thanks for, beg for, confess, or accept in prayer is important to our understanding of God. All this reveals the nature of God and the powers and abilities of God as perceived by the one praying.

We have been told all our lives to "bow our heads and close our eyes" when we pray. Perhaps we were told to do this because of the monolithic concept of God out there in our society, in which God is "the Big Man Upstairs who punishes you when you're bad and gives you presents when you're good." We are told that you end your prayer with "in Jesus' name" because, possibly, those are "the (magic) words that get your prayers heard."

Therefore, there is no right way or wrong way to pray. The way you pray should be as individual a matter as your own concept of the nature of God.

"A last word to those who feel that they cannot find the words of prayer and remain silent towards God. This may be lack of Spirit. It also may be that their silence is silent prayer, namely, the sighs which are too deep for words. Then he who searches the hearts of men (sic) knows and hears." Paul Tillich, The New Being.

For further information, contact Dr. Ray Dykes, 405-728-2844 or e-mail.