I remember when I was in seminary when a friend asked me to pray for him. “I’m only asking you,” he said, “because I know you really will pray. There are a lot of people who say they will pray for you, but you know they never do. I know you’re not like that.” It was probably one of the biggest compliments he could have given me. But I confess that, at that time, it wasn’t something I felt that I was that great at. But, after he said those words to me, I made it my business to be the person that he believed I was: consistent and faithful in my prayer life.
I’ve found that it’s easy to forget to pray for others. So, I put prayer requests in my phone the minute I get them. I keep track of them so that when I say, “I will be praying for you,” it is actually true. When I started keeping track (yes, I’m type A), I got a little obsessive about it. I would be praying and immediately feel like I needed to consult the list. And my prayers started to feel rote and sanitary as I rattled requests off to God. So, I had to force myself to take breaks from the list and just let the Spirit bring people, situations and needs to mind rather than stick to the list day in and day out. But, there is great comfort in having requests with me at all times so I can remain faithful to God and those who I am praying for.
Another seminary experience helped shape my prayer life. A professor asked us to participate in a media fast. At the time, I didn’t watch much TV, so I decided to take a break from listening to the radio in the car. It was incredibly challenging, but I found it made my mind much more active. In fact, I got so lost in my thoughts one day that I ran through a stop sign and got a ticket (my professor scribbled “sorry” next to that admission in my paper). But the real discovery for me during this media fast was the importance of stopping everything — really everything — to pray. Before my “radio silence,” I never turned off the radio in the car for anything when I was driving alone. Spending that week in silence prompted me to pray much more often and still now, I take some “silent” car rides or turn the radio off when I get that urge to pray.
The final inspiration from my prayer life comes from a quote from one of my favorite books, “Anne of Green Gables.”
Miss Cornelia, a staunch pillar of the Presbyterian church, inquired of one of her friends, Susan, about another woman’s health. Susan replied, “Oh, I’m afraid she’s going to have to rely on the Lord now.” “Oh no!” Miss Cornelia responded, “Surely it isn’t as bad as all that?”
I think most Christians would say that they believe in the power of prayer, but when we approach prayer as a last resort, like Miss Cornelia, our actions say otherwise. Prayer may come most naturally for us when things are not going right, but the Christian life is to be one of continual prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). And, while I (an other Type As who pray with lists) have to be especially careful about not getting into so much of a prayer routine that I forget about God and focus on my list, there is such power in praying earnestly for “the same things” over and over. In fact, I have never experienced God so intimately as in the times where I have prayed fervently, repetitively, continually for a single person, situation or need over and over and over. Rather than getting bogged down or becoming mundane, I have found God so deeply in the waiting and listening. Prayer will probably always remain a bit mysterious to me since God is my prayer partner, but strangely, discipline, spontaneous moments of silence and repetitiveness seem to all have a place in this mysterious power we call prayer.
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.