The title of this post comes from Edna McDonough. I read her definition of prayer years ago and have never forgotten it.
I believe in the power of prayer. Several years ago when I was in Cuba teaching Methodist pastors there, one evening I was part of a worship service at the local Methodist Church. Near the end of the service the pastor gave an invitation for anyone to come forward who desired healing. One woman came to the front who had been suffering from a fever for weeks. Doctors could not figure out what was wrong with her. The pastor asked me to come forward to lay hands on her and pray for here. What I experienced next was quite unexpected.
When I placed my hands, one on her back and the other on her shoulder, her skin was not just warm; it was almost scaulding hot. It was like trying to grasp onto a hot radiator. I could hardly keep from letting go. I knew that what I was sensing was more than the warmth of a fever. Something more was happening. I offered my prayer and moved my hands away, which were still hot. (The next day my hands were sore.)
A couple of days later as we were preparing to leave that town to go to Havana in order to go home, the women I had prayed for came to the house where I was staying. Her fever was gone and she said she felt better than she had in weeks.
Prayer is indeed the way we let God loose in the world. In telling this story I am not suggesting that Christians should have this kind of experience every time we pray, nor do I think God always answers our prayers in such miraculous ways. I have laid hands on and prayed for many people over the years and only once did I have that experience of extreme heat on my hands, even though I have witnessed other answered prayers that were indeed miraculous. Neither am I claiming that God always answers prayers in such dramatic ways. More often than not, God responds through the actions of people in the routine of the everyday. I am also not suggesting that God always answers our prayers in the way we desire. What I am trying to communicate in telling this story is that prayer is more than simply a psychological exercise that makes us feel better. I do agree that prayer can be an emotionally comforting experience, but when we pray we are not simply talking to ourselves; we are speaking to the God of the Universe who hurled the planets into their orbits and put the stars in their heavenly place, and who loves us wants to act in our midst.
I fear, however, that too often our prayers are half-hearted expressions that we have been trained to offer because that is simply what Christians do. We pray hoping that God will answer but not actually expecting God to answer. Of course, there are plenty of Christians who pray expecting God will respond, but there are just as many, if not more individuals, for whom prayer is not the powerful practice it should be because they doubt the power of prayer itself.
If you have not done so today, I encourage you to take a few moments at some point and talk to God in the same kind of way you would talk to the person across the dinner table, whom you know is listening and whom you also count on to respond. God does hear us when we pray. There are a great many needs in our world today. Let's talk to God and let him loose in our midst.