Since I became a believer at the age of 12, I have always thought of prayer as a necessary part of Christian faith but, for some reason, prayer was not particularly a daily practice in my life. I was satisfied with reading the bible alongside theology books and singing along to Christian worship songs. In dealing with my circumstances, I always relied on biblical advice or the counsel of older believers, as I never managed to just “pray on it” and found it hard to hear God’s voice for myself. Irritated by a one-sided conversation, I had given up on the idea of prayer, feeling a sense of distance from God. I found that the only way for me to get a glimpse of Him was through reading the bible and listening to worship music.
Amid this corona-virus pandemic, where people are grieving for so many lost lives, many stand helpless and lift their eyes to the Lord where their help comes from; they turn to prayer and encourage others to pray as well. Amid this pandemic, I have been rethinking the importance of prayer in my life. But this time I decided to study this subject further with many questions in mind: if God is omniscient, why do we need to pray? Should I pray for the corona epidemic to end? Is it even possible to change God’s mind? Is God waiting for me to ask him to end this pandemic? And lastly if so many Christians are praying all over the world, why is my prayer necessary?
Lately I spent time reading and studying to find some answers. It was obvious for me that the bible teaches us the importance of prayer and how to pray (for example, the Lord’s Prayer). But an eye-opening idea for me was the discovery that prayer changes me!
C.S. Lewis says: “Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me.” Prayer renews our mind, and causes us to rely on God for he is firm and does not change. It is we who need to experience real change and restoration. Prayer helps us to trust that God is good and he has the best in store for us. Before heading to his death, Jesus – God in human form – prayed: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42). Jesus was God himself, and still he prayed! This is because he was experiencing the reality of human agony, and praying was a way of committing himself fully to God to continue and finish his vocation. Does Jesus want us to pray this same prayer during this pandemic tragedy?
Timothy Keller, in his book Prayer; experiencing awe and intimacy with God writes: “Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change – the reordering of our lives. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.” In his letters, Paul’s prayers for his disciples did not include requests for change in their hard circumstances. He prayed for them what he believed was the most important thing God could give them: to know God better (Eph 1:17) – in other words to have the “eyes of their heart…enlightened” (Eph 1:18). Keller explains that biblically, the heart is the control center of the self and controls our feeling, thinking and behavior. We may cognitively understand that God is love/holy but when our hearts’ eyes are enlightened to that truth, we emotionally start to find God’s love/holiness beautiful and we intentionally avoid behavior that dishonors God. Prayer enables us to have a sense of God’s presence in our life. Without this enlightened heart, hard circumstances such as the corona epidemic can lead to anxiety and despair, because the love of God will be an abstract idea rather than the comforting presence. Prayer is inner peace and trust in God no matter the circumstances. Is knowing God better what we need first in order to face any pandemic?
My understanding of prayer was changed. I have learned to see prayer as an encounter with God, rather than just merely a routine. Prayer changes me when my mind is renewed and my life priorities are reordered. In prayer I grow to know God better and experience His presence even during a pandemic. I have also realized that worshiping God is prayer, reading the Bible is prayer, helping the poor and the sick is prayer, and smiling to the depressed stranger is prayer too.
Rami Mansour is a 11-th grade student at Nazareth Baptist School.