During my life, I’ve had several people who I considered to be best friends. We shared everything. One friend was April. We were roommates in Spartanburg, where we both had our first professional jobs.
We talked about everything. But then I moved to Charlotte for my next job. Then she moved home to Florida and got married and moved to Hawaii. When I first moved away, we tried to keep up with each other by talking on the phone and visiting. But as the distance between us grew, our opportunities to visit decreased. We still talked some, but less. And because of this, we knew less about the other’s life.
Eventually, I realized that we were no longer best friends. This is similar to what can happen to our life with God if we neglect prayer.
God is our ultimate best friend. Prayer is the form of our relationship with God – prayer is the way in which we are with God. Through prayer we share our lives with God – our joys, our sorrows, our hopes, our disappointments. And prayer is the way in which we listen to God. Prayer is not simply about telling God what we want. Prayer is also about listening and allowing God to shape and mold us in his own image. For this relationship to grow and to remain strong, we need to nurture it with prayer.
There are many ways to pray. Some people are most comfortable simply taking time to talk with God using their own words. Some people like to use prayers written by others and used over centuries. Some pray best when they have silence. I find that writing in a journal is the most comfortable way for me to talk to God. Recently, I read about another form of prayer. In this prayer, the person focuses on just a single word throughout the day. The word might be “here” to ground the person in the present moment and God’s presence with them in the midst of a busy day.
There are many ways to pray. The important thing is to do it. Sometimes it’s tempting to think that I’m too busy to pray. Then I remember the words of Martin Luther. He said “Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”
In the fifth chapter of the letter of James, we are reminded of the importance of prayer – and the different occasions for prayer. We are to pray when we suffer – when we face struggles and are in need. Through this prayer, we realize that our help comes from the Lord. But need is not the only occasion for prayer. James also calls us to sing songs of praise when we are blessed. These songs acknowledge God as the source of the blessings we have received. This prayer is not only a way to praise but a way to give God thanks. James also calls us to turn to God in prayer when we are sick. And this prayer is not simply our own but the prayers of the Christian community – the church.
As the church, we are called to pray for each other when we are sick. James also calls us to confess our sins through prayer and to receive God’s forgiveness. In this way we are reconciled with God and with each other. This prayer is what binds us to God and to one another.
Sometimes prayer can be difficult. We may face struggles and not know how to pray in the midst of them. I know I have faced times like this. I have found that this is when the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer is invaluable. In our prayer book, we find the prayers of our church – the prayers of those who have come before us. When we struggle we can turn to these as our strength and guide. We can allow our community to pray for us when we cannot pray for ourselves. When I lived in Georgia, a friend also gave me this advice: She suggested the use of the Lord’s Prayer. She told me that when she struggled with her faith and did not know how to pray, she simply offered the prayer that Jesus taught and through these words God was with her.
As God’s people, God calls us to turn to him every day. As we pray, as we open our lives to God, he is with us. He will lead us and guide us. Our relationship will grow strong. We will be transformed in the image of God and empowered to be his witnesses in his world.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fort Mill.