Prayer is the most powerful force in the universe. Through prayer, we open a direct line of communication with God who not only created the universe but is also able to completely destroy it, if he so chooses. This is the level of power we’re talking about. Paul says to “pray without ceasing”, which is what we do when we’re consciously in the presence of God. No words are needed. God is in the house, and we’ve got his full attention.
When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he first warned them against reciting “vain repetitions” like the “heathen” do, but instead gave them examples of how to open a conversation with God. He said: Ask him to get you something good to eat today. He said: Tell him you’re looking forward to his kingdom coming to Earth. He said: Tell him that you want your will to align with his, so that your will and his will are one. He said: Call him “Dad”. Then, somewhere along the line, maybe in translation or maybe on purpose, these very different ideas for conversation-openers with God got all merged together into one long vain repetition and became the very thing that Jesus warned us about.
The “Our Father” (or “The Lord’s Prayer”) was never meant to be a “prayer”. At the very most, it could serve as the words for a song, but it shouldn’t be used for praying. Prayer is simply having a conversation with God: your spirit with his spirit. If you’re born-again, God’s your Dad. Imagine what your earthly Dad would think if you called out to him, he came running, and then you stood in front of him looking skywards or with your eyes closed, your hands folded in front of you or extended, palms upward, and you babbled on and on and on about something that didn’t have anything to do with your current problems or interests and wasn’t even reflective of what was going on in your mind at the time? And even when your father tried to interject to find out what it was that you wanted, you just kept babbling on and on as if you didn’t hear him? Imagine if you did that every single time you called to your father and he came running. What do you think he’d think about you? What would you think if your child did the same to you? At some point, I think you’d either stop listening to your child or you’d call for psychiatric intervention. Children of sane minds do not talk to their father like that.
And yet, this is exactly what God, our heavenly Father, hears from most of us when we ‘pray’. It’s sad, really, because God is our Dad. Jesus told us that. Our Dad created prayer as a means for us to talk to him and hear from him. We can talk to him just like we can talk to our earthly Dad. He loves it so much when we talk to him! There’s never a time when he’s not available or when it’s not convenient for him. He never says: Go away, I’m busy. He never says: Call me later. He never says: Hold the line; I’ve got another prayer coming in. He’s always ready and waiting and he’s always all ours. The line is always open. It’s not even necessary to say anything to him. You can just share that wonderful comfortable silence of being together alone with someone you love.
For the three and a half years that I was a Catholic, I took Paul’s words to “pray without ceasing” to mean that I should recite the “Hail Mary” all day long. And so I did. I “prayed” the rosary three times a day, morning, noon and night, which amounted to something like 150+ repetitions, book-ended by a dozen or so “Our Father’s” and two rounds of mass. I also, every day, prayed about an hour’s worth of vain repetitions to angels and to assorted Saints This-and-That, which was in complete violation of God’s commandment and edicts. I wouldn’t have done any of it had I known what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t know. As a Catholic, I was not encouraged to read the Bible to get informed. Had I read the Bible, I would have known about vain repetitions and about not praying to angels and dead people. But Catholics are warned not to study the Bible on their own because (or so they’re told) they lack the ability to understand it without the help of a priest or other official minister of God.
As a Catholic, I was told God was my Heavenly Father, but I wasn’t told that I could get to know him one on one, like Jesus knew him. For Catholics, God is always addressed as thee and thou and thine; God is always out there somewhere – up in the sky or in a box at the side of the altar. He’s never right here, right now, with us, and he’s certainly never right here, right now, inside us. Not for Catholics. Only the pope and priests and some special dead people have a ‘direct connection’ with God. The rest of us rabble have to settle for repeating vain repetitions in the hopes that if we accumulate enough frequent prayer points, we might win a trip to Heaven with a stopover in purgatory.
Sadly, the idea of prayer is even used as a form of punishment in the Catholic organization. After we confess our sins to a priest (not having a direct line of communication with God, we have no other option but to tell our sins to a priest), we’re invariably told that our sins are forgiven as long as we go and “say” ten Hail Mary’s and a few Our Father’s. That’s all it takes. Mumble a few words, and you’re good to go. You don’t even have to mean them.
This is what prayer has become in the largest so-called Christian organization in the world: The most powerful force in the universe has been reduced to a hurried recitation of some old-fashioned words that don’t even really make any sense anymore. How Satan is laughing at us, if he still can! He knows (though most of us appear not to) how powerful prayer is, and how ready and willing God is to intervene at even the slightest change in our thought direction. Remember what Jesus said when he was arrested? He said all he had to do was ask God and he would immediately send 12 legions of angels to rescue him.
That’s a lot of angel power, 12 legions. He probably could have made do with just one angel, if all he wanted to do was get rescued. Twelve legions (approximately 58,000 angels) would have destroyed all of Israel and then some.
This is the kind of power I’m talking about when I say that prayer is the most potent force in the universe. God is not only willing but more than able to move Heaven and Earth for us; all we need to do is ask.
But sometimes we don’t even need to do that. The most powerful prayer I ever prayed was exactly two words long, and one of those words didn’t even make it past my lips. And here’s the kicker – I didn’t know I was praying. I was an atheist. Atheists don’t pray. The words came from a place so deep down inside me that I can only identify it, in hindsight, as my spirit. They were the last gasps of a soul so weighed down by sin that it could no longer properly form words. But God heard. However unintelligible those words were, God heard. He’d been waiting a long time to hear from me. Even before the second word had finished forming in me, he’d swooped down and caught me up in his arms. Had he not, I know now I would have fallen. Forever.
This is prayer. It’s not repetitious mumbling and fumbling with bead counters – no. Prayer is your spirit connecting with God’s spirit, even if you don’t know you’re doing it. Jesus says that God knows what we need even before we ask him. But he still needs to hear us ask; he still needs our permission.
Through prayer, we control the most powerful force in the universe. And not only is this force powerful, it’s completely devoted to us.
So the next time someone tells you to bow your head and pray, tell them you don’t pray in public; you pray in private, like Jesus told you to. Tell them you don’t repeat vain repetitions because God doesn’t hear them. And tell them what they’re doing isn’t praying and that it’s a waste of time.
And then go somewhere alone and pray that they, too, come to know God as their Dad.