—by Elizabeth Hunter
The questions and demands for quantification from my youngest son can be so numerous they overlap and tangle. His persistence can tire me out, yet I appreciate it. I’m grateful for opportunities to communicate everything from the fact that jumping off of the garage roof is not a good idea, to the fact that God forgives and loves us forever.
Peter, too, was a questioner, a quantifier. When he asked if forgiving someone seven times was enough, Jesus answered: “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21–22). We hear it’s not about numbers or limits. It’s more about the practice of forgiveness. It’s about what we are becoming.
Could prayer—the theme of our summer 2018 issues—be about what we are becoming, too? Bible study author and theologian Anna Madsen (p. 20) takes an interesting approach, using 1 Samuel 12 to explore this and other questions. “We are called to pray, but for what purpose?” she writes. “Can we persuade God with prayer? Do we actually encounter God in prayer? Is the practice of prayer intended for the sake of the one praying or for the One to whom we pray?”
Madsen would have us explore “the basis of our prayer requests, our receptivity to God’s word [and] our trust that, as Samuel says, ‘the Lord will not cast away his people.’”
In my own life, prayer has been an act of praise, petition, thanks, longing, questioning, remembering and connecting. I pray for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I need to pray. And God knows what I need. God sees things I don’t.
Are your prayers always spoken? Writers Karen Craigo (p. 28) and Amy White (p. 36) both share that some prayers are wordless. “Not every prayer starts with ‘Dear God,’ and prayers need not end in ‘Amen,’” Craigo writes. “I’m recognizing the value of just being with the Lord, in companionable silence or in readiness to hear.” Likewise, White writes that when she has no words for prayer, she finds a lake or a stream and trusts “that words and thoughts aren’t necessary, and that the Word is already with me, knows me and is for me—whether I say anything or not.”
Prayer empowers us, because we know God will hear us. It humbles us, reminding us that we aren’t God. Even if we were to ask the wrong question or pray a wrong prayer, God, as a loving parent, redirects us. It’s why we say, “Your will be done,” when we pray as Jesus taught us to pray. When we pray, we are remembering, asking and learning. And as Denise Rector shares (p. 14), “Jesus chooses to sit beside us while we’re full of envy, despair, resignation or even disbelief. That kind of love is bigger than the love I think I want.”
My oldest son, a confirmation student, tells me God’s love is infinite. We need not worry how deep, how broad, how high (ELW 322). It can’t be quantified. Which means the real power of our imperfect prayers is not in what we are praying or even how much we are praying, but to whom.
Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather.
This article is from the June 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.