In the earliest Harry Potter books, Hermione Granger knows all the right words and how to say them with the proper inflection in order to cast spells that actually change things like making objects levitate or catch on fire. Ron Weasley could never quite remember the right order of things and his spells usually backfired or had no effect at all. Prayer is not at all like learning to cast spells at Hogwarts, but we talk about it the same way. We treat prayer as magic words to be memorized and recited when we rattle off the Lord’s Prayer without a thought of what it means. We believe our prayers are not answered because somehow we are doing it wrong. We’ve shared repeatedly that there is only one rule to prayer and that is to be completely honest with God about what is going on inside and around us. How can we mess that up? We can’t, unless we are holding something back from God. So, what exactly are we doing when we pray and how does it actually change things in the world?
In the beginning of creation we learn something important. God makes it clear that God intends creation to be something God and human beings do together. God created all the animals but relies on Adam to name them. God made it rain for forty days and nights, but Noah and his family built the ark. God gave instructions to the people, but Moses wrote them down. God sent messages, but it was the prophets who delivered them. During the Exile of ancient Israel, God needed to punish the people for their endless disobedience, but it was Babylon that actually pulled the walls of Jerusalem down. Jesus offered hope, a healing way of life, and eternity but it was up to the apostles and the Church to spread it around. God can do anything but chooses to work in this world through the assistance of human beings. It might be hard to accept, but God chooses to be limited by us. How is God limited? God can do anything, but needs a human agent to work with and through, which brings us to prayer.
Prayer is not just the way God communicates with us to recruit volunteers for the mission like Moses at the burning bush. The act of prayer creates an opening for God to work in our world in real and powerful ways. Remember, we learned the other day that prayer does not depend on our skill or abilities to make things happen. I shared a quote by O. Hallesby that redefined prayer for a lot of us:
“Our intense Will, our fervent emotions, or our clear comprehension of what we are praying for are not the reasons why our prayers will be heard and answered. To pray is nothing more involved than to open the door, giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting him to exercise his own power in dealing with them.”
In other words, I don’t have to be good at prayer. I don’t have to know what to say or even how to say it. Prayer is simply opening a door for God into our world through our willingness to help. God’s grace does the rest. It’s a poor analogy, but it is as if I tune God in, then boost the signal to the rest of the world like a broadcast antenna. Mary, after she conceived by the Holy Spirit, said “my soul MAGNIFIES the Lord!” What does that mean? A magnifying glass makes things bigger and clearer. It also brings things into focus. Like Mary, in prayer, we help bring God into focus for the rest of the world. You know what else a magnifying glass can do? It can gather and intensify the rays of sunlight until they burn whatever they touch! In prayer, without saying a word, but willingly allowing God to pour through us, God’s grace is amplified, intensified, and directed toward the people and situations most in need of healing. In intercessory prayer, we focus on a need, such as peace in North Korea or restoration after hurricanes, and God’s grace is amplified there to make a difference the way sunlight through the lens can burn paper.
That’s why it doesn’t really matter if I daydream or lose focus while praying. Our most important task is to keep the door open. God does the rest. Besides, what could I possibly ask God to do that would be a better solution to the problem than what God already has in mind? “The kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If we slow down and think about the Lord’s Prayer while we are reciting it, we see that we have been asking God all along to do whatever God thinks best. But God needs a willing accomplice in this world to do it. In prayer, we hold the door open, invite God in, and say “I’m with you God! Do what you need to do!”