St Paul says, in one of his letters to the Church at Thessalonica, ‘Rejoice always and pray without ceasing.’ He also says, in a later letter to the church at Rome, that God hears our prayers, through the power of the Spirit, before we even utter them – when they are only ‘wordless groans.’
So, is it ever possible to pray too much?
And, on the other hand, if God knows our prayers before we say them, do we really need to pray at all?
At the beginning of my faith journey, when I first started to pray, it just seemed like God answered my every prayer. I became very confident in my prayers and truly expected all my prayers to answered always.
I remember one particularly embarrassing occasion, when I met up with my Vicar and a couple of friends. The Vicar said he was feeling a bit despondent about a particular project we were doing. And I said, ‘Oh don’t worry, I haven’t really started praying for that yet. But I will do soon.’
He looked at me, unable to disguise his frustration, and said, ‘Martine, don’t you think that my prayers or anyone else’s prayers count too?’
I started to backtrack quickly.
‘Well, yes of course I do,’ I said. And I did. But at the same time I guess, if I were honest, I suppose I did think my prayers were more important, because I felt I put my all into my prayers and maybe others didn’t. I got down on my knees. I gave my prayers my full attention. I put all other thoughts out of my mind other than what I was praying for.
But, as the Vicar suggested, why should this matter?
After all, wasn’t God supposed to know what I wanted, and others wanted, even before we prayed?
So, what was the point of praying, let alone praying fervently, as I did.
Over the years I’ve come to see that every thought, every hope, is a form of prayer. Sometimes we put those thoughts and hopes into words and call them prayers. But I’m convinced God knows and hears all our thoughts and hopes.
So why pray at all?
The thing is that we pray – in order to bring all of our thoughts and hopes into alignment. To focus in on what it is we really want. And purposely to put out of our minds all thoughts and negative feelings that are out of line with our prayers.
The average person has about 60,000 thoughts a day. This means that your life is being “prayed” about far more than the one occasion when you cry out, ‘Dear God, please get me a parking spot - so I’m not late for my lunch.’
You may pray for peace of mind when you get up in the morning but what about the 600 thoughts you have later that day - obsessing about your colleague at work who got the credit for something that you had done?
The only reason we don’t change water into wine – or receive other extraordinary answers to prayer – is because our prayers are scattered all over the place. On the one hand, we imagine a positive outcome but, on the other hand, we secretly think this outcome is too optimistic. We pray for things to work out but, at the same time, we worry that they won’t.
This, perhaps, is why Jesus tells us so often not to worry. Because worry truly blocks our prayers.
So, as St Paul says, pray without ceasing. You really can’t help yourself from doing that anyway, if all your thoughts and hopes are prayers. And remember that all these prayers are heard by God.
Let’s not worry. Let’s trust that God is there and loves us. And He will bless us.
Which is what answered prayer truly is – a blessing.
Posted by Martine Oborne