In my church, our sermon series for January is “Questions of Prayer.” We are not so foolish as to think we can answer every question about prayer, but we are attempting to (1) get more comfortable with the fact that all of us who pray have questions about prayer, and (2) look to the Bible for some orientation points about prayer that can help us to acknowledge the questions of prayer and keep on praying just the same.
An option for people who’d like to take one step further from Sunday morning preaching on prayer is a series of notes and reflections on the book Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, by Steve Harper that I’m sharing here on my blog.
In the introduction, Steve Harper makes two affirmations. First, “prayer is mystery.” Second, “prayer is real.”
Prayer is Mystery
Steve confesses that after 40 years of praying, he still does not understand prayer or practice it as he would like. He shares that he has as many or more questions about prayer than when he began praying. And he shares that prayer does not come easily for him.
Steve is an ordained United Methodist minister with a Ph.D. in New Testament from Duke University. He has pastored churches, served as an evangelist, led a ministry to care for pastors, been a seminary professor of spiritual formation, and a seminary vice-president.
I share that background to help you know his perspective, but also to place it alongside his confessions about his struggles with prayer and his affirmation that “prayer is mystery.”
Here’s a lesson: “Honesty is the best policy” applies to our praying too. Don’t gloss over your struggles, challenges, difficulties, and negative experiences associated with prayer. Part of learning to pray is admitting that prayer is too great a thing for us to ever understand completely. And there’s a word for that: mystery.
Prayer is Real
Even as Steve is quite blunt about his difficulties with prayer, he confesses, “But I cannot stop praying. Every time I try, I feel as if my soul is suffocating.” If there is one truth about prayer that has been revealed to us it is this: We are made for prayer. This is true because we are made for God and prayer is how we talk with God.
Steve goes so far as to call prayer “the chief means of grace” and to “agree with all those who have confessed that more things are wrought by prayer than this world ever dreams.”
Though “the power and influence of prayer will only fully be known in eternity,” that prayer is real is, I hope, no mystery at all. The reality of prayer has been revealed, so we keep on praying.
When have you experienced prayer as mystery? When have you experienced prayer affirmed as real?