“Please, God,” he shouted, “send me a bicycle, some new video games and maybe a ...”
“Why are you praying so loud?” his older brother interrupted. “God isn’t deaf!”
“I know He isn’t,” the boy whispered. “But Grandma and Grandpa is.”
I’m not saying that kid was me, but I too have prayed in my youth with ulterior motives.
At the same time, this desire to communicate with some higher power seems inherent in people all over the world. In fact, praying sets humans apart from all other life on earth. Humans alone seem conscious of their spiritual need. When they have nowhere else to turn, they instinctively look up.
The way people pray, however, takes on many forms. For example, in Buddhist monasteries, prayers are said three times a day — early morning, noon and at night. To assist them in praying, Buddhist monks carry a string of 108 beads.
In Hinduism, a prayer may pay homage to a chosen god or goddess, of which there are reportedly some 330 million deities worshipped in some 10,000 temples. Hindu prayers may take two forms — meditation or praise.
To devout Muslims, the most important part of their worship is the daily ritual prayer (salat), repeated five times a day while they face toward Mecca. A prayer mat is also commonly used.
Jewish prayers include reciting prayers taken directly from the Bible, such as the Psalms, and prayers that certain rabbis have added for people to repeat aloud on special occasions.
For those professing Christianity, prayers range from repeated prayers (the Lord’s Prayer), silent prayers and public prayers anytime and anywhere. Rehearsed and unrehearsed prayers with a rosary is also performed.
While much importance is placed on praying aloud in Hinduism, some Mennonite colonies never pray aloud. In the Bible, however, there are examples of prayers said aloud — from Solomon praying on behalf of God’s people at 1Kings 8:22-54 to Jesus Christ praying aloud at John 12:28-30.
We also have examples of individuals praying silently at 1Samuel 1:12-13 as well as Christians praying together in Acts 12:12. But Jesus cautioned his disciples that not all prayers with their traditions, positions and ritualistic repetitions are acceptable to his heavenly Father.
At Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus said, “When you pray, you must not be as the hypocrites; because they like to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways to be visible to men. Truly I say to you, they are having their reward in full.
“You, however, when you pray, go into your private room and after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.
“But when praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words. So, do not make yourselves like them, for God your Father knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him.” — New World Translation.
When the Bible was written, it was common for people to pray to images and through images, but God told His people at Isaiah 42:8, “I am Jehovah, that is my name; and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise unto graven images.” — American Standard Version.
Jesus taught his followers how to pray and be heard by God at Matthew 6:9-13. Were these words to become a ritual, repeated over and over again, since Jesus said in Matthew 6:7 not to be repetitious in our words?
Perhaps you noticed in the Lord’s Prayer how Jesus taught people to pray for God’s concerns first (His name to be sanctified, His Kingdom to come, His will to be done) then pray for our own needs second (food for each day, forgive us our sins, help us not to yield to temptation). Doesn’t this order seem appropriate?
Over the years when I shared my ups and downs with different people, some have asked if they could pray with me. Each time I respectfully decline. Why? Personally, I prefer to represent myself in prayer. Why? At 1John 2:1, the Bible says Jesus Christ is our advocate or helper with the Father.
Of course, if I became spiritually ill and felt my relationship with God was suffering, I would do as James 5:14-16 says and get help, including prayers on my behalf. But allowing someone else to speak to God for me, in my presence, while I am willing and able to speak for myself seems a bit pretentious. It’s really a private matter.
It reminds me of the little boy praying at bedtime.
“I can’t hear you,” whispered his mother.
“I’m not talking to you,” the boy whispered back.
Should Christians pray for one another? James 5:16 says yes. Still, our relationship with God should be so intimate that we can talk with our heavenly Father without public acts of piety.
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