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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Talking about prayer

Deepening key relationships may be best way to get better at prayer

When a newcomer to the Christian faith asks a penetrating question about the merits of prayer, it seems like a natural query. There is no equivalent to a driver's education course when it comes to learning prayer. For a Christian skeptic who has never counted on prayer as a way of life, it can easily feel irrelevant or useless.

But when my college-age daughter asked about prayer recently, it was my reminder that the mysteries of prayer perplex more than just those unfamiliar or unsure of the Christian life. They can baffle lifelong believers too. Rachel asked innocently enough, "Dad, what do you think? Does prayer change anything?" Her honest question about the worthwhileness of prayer suggests that all of us need to address the subject of prayer in our own lives. Not until we have that lengthy "talk" will we gain sufficient tools for speaking with other people about prayer.

Does prayer work? This is shorthand for wondering whether we waste our time whenever God fails to answer our prayers. If I may be bold enough to propose a new way for considering prayer, I suggest eliminating use of the word answer from any reference to our talk of prayer outcomes. The word doesn't fit well conceptually. It encourages an interpretation of prayer that can lean strongly toward self-interest. Before everything else, however, prayer is conversation with God. Conversations aren't about answers. They are about engaging a relationship. They involve sharing company with someone. Deep conversations promote discovery.


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