I recently read about Reverend Robert Stivey and how he used his personal savings to buy disused chapels in the hope that reopening them might encourage people to gather for prayer and worship. The story was inspiring and disheartening in equal measure, because it highlighted a sad truth – prayer no longer plays a pivotal role in society. Granted, there are still churches, mosques and temples pulsating with life within their respective communities, but for many, the notion of prayer belongs to a bygone era.
When I was a child, prayer was a ritual I performed to please my parents and also in the nebulous hope, God would look favourably on me. Once I realised it wasn’t a mechanism for getting what I wanted, I questioned its purpose, yet continued to rely on it for strength and comfort, during difficult times. However, it took a crisis in my life to begin a cathartic journey, which led me to discover the true meaning and significance of prayer.
I realised that far from being a vehicle for wish fulfilment, prayer was the doorway to an inner chamber, where I found myself in the presence of God. Here, I was compelled to contemplate my relationship with God. I was reminded that God loved me more deeply than my own family and knew me better than I knew myself. Safe in that knowledge, I shed the bravado which served me in the earthly world and revealed my vulnerability and helplessness, which led to a dialogue where I spoke directly to God. I shared my innermost thoughts, fears and frustrations and as I did so, a gentle peace wrapped itself around me, shielding me from the troubles which tormented me. Although the respite was ephemeral, it was transformational because it triggered my life-long search for God.
It was through prayer that I came to know God. Not the foreboding God of childhood teachings, but a very personal God, full of joy, kindness and love. I discovered God was interested in every aspect of my life and longed to hear from me, dispensing hope, wisdom, inspiration and perspective. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that it was feasible, let alone desirable to have a personal relationship with God, but once I understood, there was no turning back.
It was also through prayer that I came to know myself – not as I was, but as God meant me to be. Even when the illusions of the material world couldn’t satisfy me, I held onto them and it was God who gently prised me away from the judgements and expectations which had once been my bedrock, inviting me to see myself through His eyes, as a soul whose only role was to give and receive love.
However, by far the greatest impact of prayer was its transformative effect. It’s impossible to spend time with God and fail to exhibit some semblance of love, kindness, generosity and compassion. As with any close relationship, the more time you spend with the one you love, the more closely you resemble them. This is why I pray.