What is prayer?
Prayer is the soul's sincere desire
Uttered or unexpressed,
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near.
Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer the sublimest strains that reach
The majesty on high.
Prayer is the contrite sinner's voice
Returning from his ways,
While angels in their songs rejoice
And cry: Behold, he prays!
Prayer is the Christian's vital breath,
The Christian's native air,
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters Heaven with prayer.
O thou by whom we come to God,
The life, the truth, the way!
The path of prayer thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray!
Prayer is such a simple exercise and yet it can be so hard to practice. While prayer should be as natural to us as breathing, we seem to make it hard. When you don’t think about breathing you just do it.
Yet breathing is a complicated and very necessary function of our bodies. You also may not think about breathing until you have something that hinders or stops the natural function. Now that you are thinking of breathing, what do you notice about the way you breathe? Do you have to tell yourself to do it? Can you hold your breath? How long can you hold your breath? The world record is 11 minutes and 35 seconds. The average time for someone to be able to hold their breath would be less than a minute.
The first thing our bodies need to do is to exhale the carbon dioxide that has built up and replace it with oxygen. It is important to pay attention to our breathing from time to time because we need to check to be sure we are using our lungs to breathe deeply and get rid of all the bad air (carbon dioxide) or low quality of air. Breathe in and expand your diaphragm then breathe out every bit of air you can before you breathe in again. As you do this you are oxygenating your body and helping it to relax, and speeding up the benefits of breathing.
Praying is just as natural and is just as vital to your spiritual life as breathing is to your physical life. You may not die as quickly spiritually from not praying as you would physically from not breathing, but prayer is the Christian’s vital breath and native air.
So that would answer the question: “Why should I pray?” rather well.
How do we answer the question: “What is prayer?”
Once again the song by James Montgomery helps us with a good start. “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed, the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.” Prayer begins as soul breathing. It is a natural response of our soul to want to communicate with our Creator.
All of us are born with a need and ability to pray. Humans have a basic and natural prayer life going on until we reach a point where we need to develop and understand prayer so that we can grow spiritually. It is rather like learning the complexities of communication.
A baby is born. They know how to communicate basic needs like hunger, cold, fear, contentment, and how to get those big people to do what I want them to do. At first the communication is limited to crying when hungry, cold, wet, thirsty, or afraid. Some cooing and happy sounds when awake and happy are also ways babies communicate. Our first attempts at praying – soul breathing – might sound the same way to God. As a baby grows they learn to communicate through facial and body language as well as through new sounds.
If you have ever been held hostage on an airplane by a cranky baby, you will know that they can communicate their feelings and needs quite effectively. It does not take long before all the adults on the same airplane can tell if the baby is crank because they are sleepy, or hungry, or board, or sick or just exercising their power over the people around them. Adults are “wired” to respond to the cries of babies for the survival of our species. God is attuned to the sound of our soul breathing and knows how to help us grow and mature so we can communicate with Him in ways we understand and in ways beyond our understanding.
Every human is uniquely designed and developed. Nature and nurture insure that while we have many things in common and can wear the same labels no two of us are exactly alike. We are born with certain temperaments and life experience refines and defines our characters and personalities. It would be the same with soul breathing and praying.
If you are of an extrovert temperament, your “soul’s sincere desire” will most certainly be uttered. If you are of an introvert temperament, your “soul’s sincere desire” may be unexpressed. If you are an active person your personal prayer expression or gifting will not be the same as a person who is more introspective. So prayer for the active person may be talking out loud in your head while you are doing. The person who needs quiet time for reflection will do their best praying when there is quiet time and it may be in conversation in their head and heart instead of talking.
For some people praying is being quiet and listening for the voice of God rather than asking God to listen to them. Prayer is soul breathing and learning to understand how to communicate your needs to God. Prayer is soul breathing and learning how to understand what God is saying to you.
The best thing I can say about prayer is that it is a gift from God. God hears our sincere prayers and wants to teach us to hear what He has to say to us. Just let your soul breath and learn how to communicate with God.
Breath out – communicate with God.
Breath in listen and learn to hear what God has to say!
By Commissioner Debi Bell