In my childhood home, a small plaque hung on the kitchen wall. It said, Prayer Changes Things. This little motto sparked my first theological musings on the nature of prayer … not too bad when you're only five or six years old.
Could this really be true? I often wondered, as I downed my Cheerios. Frankly, my personal experience did not support the credibility of that statement.
After all, prayer hadn't forestalled my punishment when my father discovered the living room lamp I'd broken. Prayer hadn't closed down school the day it snowed. Neither had it hastened the coming of Christmas, produced a new bike, or brought the pastor's long and deadly Sunday sermon to a merciful end.
So what things did prayer change? Perhaps the adults knew. I didn't.
A Vulnerable Mystery
Prayer has remained a nagging, wondrous mystery in my life ever since. Because I am committed to living biblically, I believe—really believe—in prayer, even if I am not exactly sure how it works. I don't have to know all the "theo-mechanics" of prayer; I just do it. And, most of the time, I'm glad I've prayed. I believe that plaque on our kitchen wall was essentially correct.
Prayers can be said by one person or uttered by many. Prayers can be sung, spoken, written, or groaned. Prayers can be liturgical (like a symphony: carefully composed and often repeated) or they can be spontaneous (like jazz: improvised and incapable of exact repetition). Short or long; asking or thanking; shouting or silent.
Prayer is also an exercise in personal and pastoral vulnerability. I have never been confident regarding the eloquence of my prayers. Once, in my college days, a girl in my campus group said to me: "You don't pray like other Christian guys in the group. You ...