What Happens When You Pray?

Ross McCall

I have been praying for more than 30 years. I can remember talking to God through all of my life’s watershed moments:

  • I prayed as a child beginning to believe there was a God.
  • I prayed as a teenager, nervous about the idea of following Jesus.
  • I prayed as a young adult, even as I rejected religion as a straightjacket on my life.
  • I prayed as God invited me to a better life.
  • I prayed as a new believer, a new husband, and especially as a new father.

So you’d think by now I would have this prayer thing sorted.

But the notion of a two-way conversation with a God I can’t literally see or hear is, for me, one of the most elusive and frustrating elements of living as a Christian. I don’t remember anyone ever giving me a prayer starter kit.

I learned to read, write, complete mathematical equations and play guitar in a fraction of the time I’ve been praying. But trying to pray leaves me feeling like I missed a class everyone else attended.

Some days I think I’ve forgotten how to pray.

Perhaps I was looking for a formula for something that’s not meant to have one. So to find out what’s supposed to happen when we pray, I cheated. I asked my wife and kids.

Here is what they said happens when people pray — and I think they’re right:

  • You recognize that you are not God.
    Every time it occurs to us to pray, we are saying, “In my own strength, I cannot do all that I want to do. I need something more, someone else.”
  • You realize the world doesn’t begin and end with you.
    When babies cry or scream, someone usually comes and meets their needs. Growing up is a painful process of slowly coming to terms with the reality that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Whether we are praying for ourselves or others, we’re acknowledging someone else is the center of the universe.
  • You gain strength outside of yourself.
    Prayer is often our way of inviting a higher power to join us in life’s struggles. We hope to find a source of strength, wisdom and inner peace as we pray, whatever our belief system.
  • You are surrendering control to somebody else.
    We are all control freaks to one degree or another. Some of us just believe we’re better at being in control than others. Prayer allows us to admit to God that we need Him in the driving seat of our life.
  • You are communicating your real feelings about a situation.
    Do you feel ready to give God control of your life? Talk to God honestly about how that question makes you feel. He knows everything about you. He’s eager to listen 24/7 so prayer creates a safe space to process your thoughts and feelings.
  • You trust that God is with you.
    Unless you’re happy admitting that you talk to floors or ceilings, when you pray you’re believing that someone or something is listening, and might even do something about the things you’re talking about.

How does this sound to you? Scary, intriguing, utterly confusing?

Prayer is a mysterious thing, simple but profound. Billions of words are prayed every day. God listens to them all.

My favorite person to pray with is my son Archie. Why? Because when he prays, he presumes God will hear him, and whether God’s answer is yes, no or not yet, Archie expects Him to answer.

That’s what I’m working on.

Maybe, like me, you struggle with believing you’re not good at prayer. Where do you go from here?

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