Sometimes kids pray the darnedest things. I found these prayers on the Internet:
“Dear God: This is my prayer. Could you please send my brother some brains? So far he doesn’t have any. Angela, age 8.”
“Dear God: I need a raise in my allowance. Could you please have one of your angels tell my father? Thank you. David, age 7.”
“Dear God: I am saying my prayers for me and my brother Billy, because Billy is six months old and he can’t do anything but sleep and wet his diapers.” Diane, age 8. “
These kids must have been listening to St. Paul. In his letter to Timothy, Paul commands Timothy and his friends to pray for everyone. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” (1 Timothy 2:1)
Prayer comes in many forms. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer defines prayer as “responding to God, by thought and by deed, with or without words.”
Prayer is about showing God our praise and love. Prayer is about giving thanks for our blessings. In prayer, we admit our sins, the ways we have broken our promises to God. In prayer, we offer God our service. And finally in prayer, we ask God to provide for the needs of others and for our own needs.
Often we think that prayer begins with what we need or what those closest to us need. But actually, it does not. Prayer begins with God. Prayer is first about who God is and our response to his life and love. Then it is about our needs.
But how does prayer work? Is prayer about changing God? Is prayer about persuading God to do what we want? Sometimes I read emails that request prayer for someone in need and a reference is made to the thousands of people already praying for this person. Is prayer more effective if lots of people are praying? This leads to the image of a God who is hard of hearing and needs lots of voices raised in prayer to hear our petition. This also leads to the image of a God who does not hear the concerns of those who are alone. So no, I do not think that prayer is about the number of petitions made.
When we pray – for ourselves and for others – we come before God. We make ourselves vulnerable and receptive. We open ourselves to God’s presence with us. In these times the life of God meets our life. In this meeting we are changed – in mind, body and spirit. God’s life fills our life. And God’s life is revealed in our world.
So, no: prayer isn’t about changing God. It is about God changing us.
And this call to pray is not just about us. We are called to pray for everyone. And this doesn’t just mean those we know and care about – our family and friends. It includes everyone – strangers, those in other countries, the poor, homeless, and hungry, and even our enemies.
Paul reminds us especially to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions..” For Paul these leaders were not Christian. Yet he still called for prayers for them – so that they could live quiet and peaceful lives. Political leaders then and now need divine wisdom and guidance so that we all can live quiet and peaceful lives. And these prayers are not just for the political leaders we agree with. Maybe they should be especially for those we don’t agree with. This call, though, is not for unconditional submission to the decision of our leaders. This was not Paul’s call 2,000 years ago and it is not today.
There will be times when being faithful to God requires that we stand in opposition to Earthly leaders. But we can still pray.
We are to pray for everyone because the Lord “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth.” The good news of our Lord Jesus Christ is not an exclusive prize. It is a bounty that is meant to be spread across all creation so that all will be blessed.
If we allow our prayers to be embodied not only in our thoughts and words but in our deeds, then we will be Christ’s witnesses and others will come to know the truth of his life and love.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 501 Pine St. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.