Have you ever wondered why we pray? Prayer is one of the central spiritual disciplines of faith. It is so important that in 1 Thessalonians the Apostle Paul urges the faithful to “pray without ceasing.” This is certainly a daunting task, especially when sometimes prayer can feel empty and pointless. Sometimes our prayers can seem like they have devolved into a cosmic wish-list, where we tell God what we would like to happen in our lives, the lives of our friends and family, in the world. We rattle off lists of situations and hurts that we would like God to address, and while I firmly believe that God listens to these cries of our hearts, I know that sometimes when my prayers feel like a to-do list to God they can feel hallow. I wonder sometimes, why am I telling you this God, when I know you already know about it.
In these moments I return to that question, why do we pray. Ultimately the purpose of prayer is to connect with God. Henri Nouwen writes, “prayer is first of all listening to God. It’s openness. God is always speaking, God is always doing something.” When our prayers feel dull perhaps this is a reminder that prayer is not only about us speaking to God, but also us listening. How often do you call a friend or relative on the phone, list the things that are going on in your life, thank them for listening, and then hang up? Hopefully never–I doubt that friend would appreciate it much. But how often do we allow our prayers to be moments of silence, when we listen to how God is speaking and moving. We pray not only the share our lives with God, but also to open ourselves up for God to share Godself with us.
Henri Nouwen goes on to write, “I know the only way for me to see the world is to see it through God’s eyes.” And this, surely, is another reason why we pray. When we listen for God, when we notice how God is moving, we begin to see the world through God’s eyes. Prayer is transformative in this way, it trains our vision to see the beloved-ness of the world more clearly. It helps us to see the places of light and hope that shine in the darkness.
So why do we pray? The answer is that there are many reasons, more reasons that we could list or understand. But ultimately it has to do with the way God desires connection with us and we desire connection with God. One final quote from Henri Nouwen: “the only way to pray is to pray, and the only way to pray well is to pray much.” There is no right or wrong way to pray, no prayer of the heart that is better than any other. And there is no better time to pray than now, right in this moment. Take the time to sit with God in prayer, even if just for a moment, to listen to the voice of the One who calls you, “my beloved child.”