// who is your God?

There are some prayer meetings that are very much action-orientated. Some times they’re obviously so – that is to say, when you arrive, somebody hands you a list, you pray through the list – and sometimes it just happens that way, lots of prayers for how events are run and so on. I always struggled with that kind a bit, though. They were very practical, but sometimes they just felt a bit like planning meetings…

For a while, I had this theory that you could tell what subjects people had studied at university by the way they prayed. We used to have this student prayer breakfast when I was an undergraduate and I always reckoned you could tell the difference – engineers and mathematicians would be pretty logical and practical, social scientists prayed about enlightenment and justice, arts students used metaphors. So I figured that because I studied English Literature then I saw the world differently to the others – and a lot of my prayers were about seeing the world with new eyes, rather than praying for things that were going on.

I don’t know that many people got where I was coming from, though. You know, in some prayer meetings you get murmurs of assent, or shouts of “amen!” (depending on how Pentecostal you are), and I never seemed to get enough of them, for the most part. It’s not about that – of course it’s not – but, you know, sometimes when you’re trying to work this stuff out it’s useful to have some pointers at least.

Last night at the cell group we run with our youth we were looking at prayer in practice, and asking the question of what it is that prayer is all about. Who we pray to, and why. From the very start there were two different opinions. Some people think that prayer is mostly about praying to God in order to change situations directly. Others think that prayer is about changing our own perspective, receiving peace or wisdom or courage to proceed and spur us into action.

The answer, of course, is that it’s both (although not necessarily in equal measure)…

If you listen to people praying, then that tells you something about the God they’re talking to, and that’s not always a bad thing, either. There’s something incredible in hearing other people talking to God, just in the same way that watching other people worship can be a breathtaking experience. I love the way that Donald Miller puts it:

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad theatre in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way…

If you watch people who are in love with God, who living lives for Him, in real, dynamic and regular communion with Him, then you will know that there is something amazing about the relationship that they have. If you watch their lives, their perspectives and their priorities, then you won’t be able to avoid the fact that their lives are different. You can just see it. “If you are in love with Jesus, it is blindingly obvious,” Michael Ramsden once said, and he’s totally right. You’ll know. By the way, if you haven’t heard Michael Ramsden’s incredible sermon on this same topic, download it here and listen to it immediately. It is utterly brilliant.

It really pays to spend some time reflecting on what your prayers say about your perspective of God. The way you pray to Him, do you see Him as a divine handyman? A supernatural confidant? Is He distant, or close? Does He care, or is He impartial? Is He trustworthy?

None of this is a call to unhealthy introspection, but it does help to spend some time examining where you get those perspectives from every now and again.

What do you hope to get out of a prayer time? Should you hope to get anything out of it, or is the time spent in God’s presence enough in and of itself?

If you really love God, is that reflected in your time with Him?

Is your relationship like that of a lover?

Our community last night came to no real conclusions about prayer, which I think is okay – there are no decisive conclusions anyway, which is part of the beauty and mystery of prayer. But I like it that way, and I like that I’m still learning more about it as I go on, that I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet. I like that my prayers have developed over time, too, the more that I know of God, and I like that I can expect them to continue to develop too.

And so maybe that explains why I like listening to other people praying in prayer meetings, because I think they remind me that I am part of a church all of who see different sides of the same God, and also that what all of this is about is our differing relationships with that God.

I’m starting to think that the only way to write about prayer at all is in mystery, straining at words to make sense of what is so difficult to articulate. But then, living in mystery is definitely a more fun way to live anyway…

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