Last week I mentioned a sharp distinction between hope and hopes. This week, an important line might also be drawn between prayer and prayers.
To quote David Steindl-Rast:
Sooner or later we discover that prayers are not always prayer. That is a pity. But the other half of that insight is that prayer often happens without prayers. And that should cheer us up. In fact, it is absolutely necessary to distinguish between prayer and prayers. At least if we want to do what Scripture tells us to do and “pray continually” (Luke 18:1) we must distinguish praying from saying prayers. (Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer: 40-41)
I have often defined prayer simply as “attentiveness to God.” It describes a posture of the heart, not simply words spoken by the lips. Some of us find our minds irretrievably distracted during set times for prayer (and prayers) only to find ourselves caught up in wonder and in the Presence of God while watering the garden or watching a child. This is the distinction that Steindl-Rast makes between prayer and prayers.
The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but they are not necessarily the same.
Yet, many of us measure our piety by the minutes or hours “spent in prayer.” By that, we mean the time we spend working through lists of needs or talking to God. But “prayer without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5: 17) cannot be measured with a clock. It’s descriptive of a heart.
Our quiet moments before God and with God, silent and still, listening and waiting, enjoying and delighting, thoughtful and attentive…are prayer in every truest (and biblical) sense of the word.
Prayer is first and foremost a Presence word, not a ritual. How often have we bowed our heads and closed our eyes while others addressed God, with barely an awareness of either Him or the words until Amen gets pronounced? Then there are those moments when our souls are full and well (despite trials or suffering) because we are profoundly aware that we are not alone. Not a word has been spoken.
It’s harder to teach Presence. Yet, the church throughout history, in small pockets of faithful believers, has always urged Christ-followers to “practice the Presence of Christ.” This is the practice of prayer.
May you experience the best of prayer and prayers this week, not for the purpose of personal piety but because His Presence produces the profound peace for which our hearts truly yearn.