Thursday, January 26, 2012

Prayer (Hymn 140)

In ancient days, the Jews generally regarded the psalms to be "lesser scripture," but scripture nonetheless. I think this is how I feel sometimes about our hymns. I sometimes learn profound things from them, as much as I sometimes do studying the scriptures. And so, as you can tell from my title, I've chosen to base my remarks tonight around a hymn rather than a scripture passage. The hymn is one you probably know, but which has really sunk into my mind lately. It's number 140: "Did You Think to Pray?"

The first verse says:

Ere you left your room this morning, Did you think to pray?
In the name of Christ, our Savior, Did you sue for loving favor As a shield today?

The first line is the least profound of the entire hymn, but there is still more to it than initially meets the eye. At first, it seems to merely suggest the duty of prayer--that prayer is something we are required to do with regularity. But then comes the second line, which unlocks the true intent of the first. The first line isn't there to rebuke us if we didn't pray, but to encourage us. It's not about guilt-tripping, but rather gladly inviting us to reap the rich benefits of prayer. The real sadness in not praying to begin the day is not that you didn't fulfill an obligation, but rather that you didn't reap an important blessing of heavenly protection. You hurt yourself far more than you could ever hurt God if you don't pray.

One thing I especially love about this hymn, is that it never asks, "Did you think to say your prayers?" Rather, it specifically enjoins PRAYING, which altogether a different matter than merely "saying prayers." This is one of the most important distinctions I've learned in my life. "Saying prayers" means to go through the motions and say prayer-like words addressed to God. Often repetitious. Praying, on the other hand, is a divine 2-way conversation. Prayer often transcends the pattern we learned in primary of addressing--thanking--asking--closing. That is a nice paradigm to teach children with, but eventually we must move beyond it. In fact, perhaps the most important part of effective prayer is LISTENING. Eventually, prayers start including basic conversation about how your day was and discussing the things in your life with the Creator. I've loved learning to stop praying FOR things (whether that means merely "thanking FOR" or "asking FOR") and rather praying ABOUT them instead. After all, our gratitude gains more meaning if we discuss WHY we are grateful for each blessing. And our petitions are improved when we first consult the Lord to see if we are even praying for the right thing in the first place! Just remember, when you pray, that He is listening and often willing to respond. Let Him. (That said, I have to add a brief reminder: God's voice, typically via the Spirit, coming in response strongly when you pray is a thing that waxes and wanes. Sometimes you'll feel it, other times you won't and that is NOT necessarily indicative of your worthiness! Don't condemn yourself just because He is sometimes silent. In fact, I've already written a whole post on that subject previously, called "Forsaken.")

Anyway, the next verse of the hymn goes:

When your heart was filled with anger, Did you think to pray?
Did you plead for grace, my brother, That you might forgive another Who had crossed your way?

Okay, I've sung this verse my entire life in countless sacrament services. But never until today did the full depth of it register with me. This is a profound message that could actually bring about World Peace if everybody followed its advice. We all will be angered by the actions of others at one time or another. And when that anger comes, this song recognizes our need for GRACE. At first it seems that the grace is needed to forgive us of the anger. That's probably true; we SHOULD pray for/about that. But the grace is for so much more than that. Grace transforms us into better people. As the song here suggests, we plead for the grace so that we can be filled with a more forgiving spirit. I've had some important prayers lately like this: asking God to help me become better. I have to put forth my efforts to improve, of course, but the grace steps in and enables the changes and allows me to make changes I couldn't on my own. We're currently working together on targeting selfishness. Still a work in progress, but I've felt the grace in action today.  (By the way, in my post a few days ago I promised a follow-up to my earlier post on Grace. That is still in the works and coming soon.)

Here's a challenge for you: You will feel hurt or angry some day soon. Maybe someone is making gay jokes again. Or mocking your religious beliefs. Maybe they've done something dishonest. Maybe they dropped something heavy on your head--by accident or intention! I don't know why you are going to have bad feelings for another person, but you will. When that moment comes, PRAY. Remember that Christ taught in the sermon on the mount that you should "pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). This is great advice. I learned a while back that you can't sincerely pray for someone while hating them. To actually face your God and ask for good things for an individual basically grows love in your heart. You will immediately begin reconciling yourself with your enemies by praying for them sincerely, and for their happiness. But don't just pray for them; as the song recommends, pray for YOURSELF to become a better person through grace, for that will truly be even more key to resolving the dispute.

Okay, final verse:

When sore trials came upon you, Did you think to pray?
When your soul was full of sorrow, Balm of Gilead did you borrow At the gates of day?

While the first verse mentioned praying at specific times, such as when we rise, these latter two aren't as time-bound. The best time to pray about a trial is when it hits. You don't need to wait until that evening! Isn't that great? God's status is always set to "available." As with anger, sore trials are also just a guaranteed part of life. And hopefully they drive us pray. Don't foolishly try to face trials without God's grace! Balm of Gilead was ancient medicine. It was an aromatic plant that helped heal wounds and grew abundantly in Gilead. It was probably one of the most important medical discoveries of ancient times, as it was able to not only speed healing, but also kept infection at bay. Our wounds, both physical and spiritual, can be dressed with healing salve that is abundant and available for us through prayer.
I'll end this post with the hymn's straightforward but profound chorus, which speaks for itself:

Oh, how praying rests the weary! Prayer will change the night to day.
So, when life gets dark and dreary, Don't forget to pray.

My best,


1 comment:

  1. Prayer has carried me through some of my darkest hours. I'm glad I didn't forget to pray.


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