As a campus minister, I am often asked by friends and family to pray for a certain individual or situation. I myself often tweet out prayers for different things via our twitter account. Sometimes though, I stop to think what exactly it means to “pray” for someone or something, or even to pray at all, and I get a bit nervous.
The following thoughts often run through my mind when I get on this path: What does prayer mean? What does it do? If God is omniscient, meaning God knows everything at all times, why do I need to pray? Does God only listen to people when they pray? And on and on the list can go!
In the end, I usually come to the following conclusion: prayer is meant for us and helps us to strengthen our relationship with God and one another; it is not meant to benefit God. Let me break this down a bit for you.
God knows when we are happy or sad. God knows what we need, often better than we know ourselves! Praying offers a chance to talk with God and to really let God (and ourselves) know what is on our minds and hearts. Prayer is a time to spend some one on one time with God, having a conversation, much like we would a friend. If we never spend time with a friend, our relationship suffers. If we never spend time in prayer, our connection to God becomes a little fuzzier.
But, like any conversation, prayer also involves listening. In prayer we are still. We are quiet. We are listening for a response, an indication of being heard and responded to. Few people have ever heard what they can clearly discern as God’s voice in any physical way, but it does happen. More likely though God will speak to us through our friends’ voices or our own (that little voice within our souls). I often feel God’s presence when I’m reading books or sitting quietly reflecting and an insight comes to me that I know I could not have realized on my own. It is a thought; a feeling. During prayer it might be helpful to imagine yourself asking a question to God and Jesus and then see what comes to you as a response. Our emotions are a good indicator of God’s response.
In the end, it is we who are changed by prayer. When praying for a person or situation, it helps us remember why this is important to us and causes us to consider the part we might play in it. In prayer, we open our hearts to God, but it is we who will be shaped by God’s loving response.
This post was written by Sarah Fontaine-Lipke, campus minister for the Into the Streets service program.