I’ve been reading quite a bit of material on other faiths recently, as preparation for a class I’m teaching this fall. There’s one faith that I just did some in depth study on where a daily prayer ritual exists. To complete this ritual takes between 2 and 3 hours each day. I have a great deal of respect for people who are disciplined enough to devote 2 to 3 hours to saying the same stuff each morning before the sun rises and after the sunset, and I don’t mean to belittle their efforts in worship and devotion; but I do respectfully believe that prayer is supposed to be so much more.
I worry that when prayer becomes a ritual, it loses its power.
Having a wedding ceremony once? Beautiful and meaningful. Having a wedding ceremony every weekend? Pointless and tedious.
I see signs of ritualization of prayer in Christianity. Here’s what I mean:
Praying over our food at each meal.
Praying before every athletic event and practice.
Praying before bed every night.
Praying when we wake up every day.
Isn’t it possible that “saying a prayer” 10-15 prayers a day will turn the prayer into an obligation? Perhaps I’m dead wrong here. Perhaps saying a prayer before every single meal will help some people remain focused on God’s generosity or provision.
I pray over some meals and not others. The funny thing is that the times when I don’t pray, God doesn’t turn the meal to worms and give me food poisoning.
Another faith I read about writes prayers on flags. Each time the wind blows the flag, they believe the prayer is sent up to heaven.
I simply can not accept this as an appropriate attitude for the Christian faith. Yet, when we say obligatory prayers at certain times, I feel we are doing essentially the same thing.
I’m not arguing that you or anybody else should pray more or pray less. Just that we must be weary of letting prayer become a ‘thing we do’. I find that often repeated rituals rob something of its genuine essence.
I believe prayer is important and valuable. Too important and valuable, in fact, to let it become a chore. So I pray all the time. But I don’t feel pressure to do it at any particular time.
I don’t think God is waiting behind a tree waiting to cause me harm if I forget to ask for protection on that particular morning.
I do think that spending time listening for God on a daily basis is important. Some days I don’t feel like I heard anything specific. Other days, I get distinct, strong impressions of what God is saying to me or showing me.
Prayer, reading the scriptures, singing, fasting; these are very valuable tools in the process of ones spiritual development. But like tools, they must be used for a purpose.
If I simply pick up a hammer and hit a piece of scrap wood everyday because ‘it’s a hammer and it’s supposed to hit wood’, I’m not actually building anything. ‘Praying because you’re supposed to pray’ is the same thing.
Let’s not feel that we need to pray more, let’s try to pray more genuinely, more interactively. For when we connect with God, then we have used the tool to accomplish its true purpose.