Headline: The Changing Face of Prayer

Posted on: 2015-06-10

Christian Life is prayer life

That a "prayer-less" Christian is a powerless Christian is unarguable in Christendom. Jesus Christ himself commanded his followers to pray always "without ceasing". Prayer is of vital necessity to the life of all believers. More precisely, prayer and Christian life are inseparable. Jesus prayed before embarking on important events of his life. He did so before choosing his disciples (Lk. 6:12), at the last supper where he gave himself as food for our souls (Lk. 22: 14ff) and in the garden of Gethsemane before he gave his life for the salvation of the world Matt. 26:39-44). No wonder that he also gave such details to his followers about how to pray, when to pray and what to pray about. "When you pray do not be like those who want to be seen...do not use a lot of words, as the pagans do, for they believe that the more they say, the more chance they have of being heard. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need, even before you ask him" (Matt. 6:5-15). Jesus then taught his disciples the Lord's prayer. The Church successfully teaches, even today, the importance of prayer. The practice and procedure of prayer however have become more democratic, if not sometimes outlandish.

When we pray

So many prayer-forms exist today which are quite different from what Jesus taught. Prayer in contemporary society, is often skill-based rather than spirit-filled. In some cases it has become a multi-million naira enterprise with prayer experts laying claim to skills and insights hardly identifiable with Jesus' original format. New prayer-related terminologies have emerged as well. Prayer-preneurs, prayer-warriors, prayer-jammers and prayer-jamborees, "storm the heavens", "bombard God with prayers" and continue to update the prayer lexicon of our time. I once read an analysis about contemporary prayer in Nigeria as one which favours quantity over quality. The author wrote that Nigerians would often ensure that three forms of prayer are said before every activity and meeting, if possible, one Christian, another Muslim and the other traditional. The more the prayers the greater the authenticity of the event. They could then proceed to embezzle money, plan assassinations and contrive all sorts of evil, guided by the principle of Prayer na prayer but business na business. Listen to many Nigerians pray and you would think that the credibility of their religion depends on the volume of its prayers.

Better than Jesus

Even the Biblical Old Testament does not support such practices. The difference between the prayers of the prophets of Baal and prophet Elijah at Carmel in the Bible seems today no longer relevant (1Kgs 18). The former shouted, ranted, cut themselves up and somersaulted all to no avail. The prophet Elijah uttered simple words of trust and confidence and Almighty God's fire descended to consume his offering. Of this I am convinced, going by contemporary atmosphere of prayer, had Jesus the only Son of God walked the face of the earth today many prayer warriors would have tried to teach him to pray better. Jesus taught his disciples the "Our Father" in response to their request to be taught how to pray. How could the Son of God teach a prayer of only a few sentences? Could he not have done better?  How could Jesus, in such life-threatening crises as in Gethsemane, spend all his time repeating only a few submissive words of prayer to God who alone could save him? "Father, if it is possible, take this cup away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want" (Matt 26: 39). No! Had he known better how to pray, his would surely have been a great flow of words, exclamations, sighs and groans plus much decreeing, casting, binding and speaking in tongues, to match the crisis. How prayer has all changed!

As it was in the beginning

Yet, God  who is the target of all sincere prayers does not change but remains the same. Christians correctly give glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit and say: "as it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, world without end". The lessons of the old time-tested church hymns about the truth of the faith remain valid: "Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, unuttered or expressed; the motion of a hidden fire, that trembles in the breast". The wise Mahatma Ghandhi was once quoted as saying: "In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than to have words without a heart". The Bible also established that prayer must be more than mere words but must be coherent with action. For the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "prayer presupposes an effort, a fight against ourselves and the wiles of the Tempter. The battle of prayer is inseparable from the necessary 'spiritual battle' to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ: we pray as we live because we live as we pray" (CCC.2752).

 Thy will be done

Origen, one of the Church Fathers of the 3rd century, wrote: "He 'prays without ceasing' who unites prayer to works and good works to prayer. Only in this way can we consider as realisable the principle of praying without ceasing". In Nigeria, these times ask for the genuine spirit of prayer of which Saint Paul wrote which helps us address God as: "Abba, Father" and makes us conform our lives to God's will. (Rom. 8:114ff). In fact, authentic prayer should begin by talking to God and end by listening to him, with an attitude of "thy will be done". In other words the volume of our prayer must bring about our moral transformation in real life and match the will of God for all his children.