Pray or Stay the Same

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Prayer and change go together. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. We say, “Prayer changes things.” First line of defense or last resort, we believe that prayer is the answer. Expecting a heavenly thumbs up or when our back is up against the wall, we bow our heads, put our hands together, or close our eyes and pray: “Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication. Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint. I am distraught by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked” (Ps 55:1-3a, NRSV).

We encourage persons to PUSH, to “pray until something happens.” Hands folded in prayer are not idle but at work. We know this to be true; still, we get started on the work outside of prayer, as if to give God a head start. We pray when we feel that our work here is done or when all else fails. As if there is nothing else to lose, we figure, “I might as well pray.” We cry out like the psalmist, “Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth” (Ps 54:1-2, NRSV).

But prayer also changes us. Prayer, confession, silent meditation, reflection, talking it out with God, sharing our burdens with the faithful shapes us, molds our perspective, transforms our reality. Prayer unties our tongues and releases us of our burdens. We are talked out of our limited vision, our short-sighted solution. Prayer is not a negotiation with God. Prayer changes our minds, but it begins by changing our mouths.

How many times have we begun praying one way and ended the conversation with a completely different conclusion or conviction? Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove write in Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, “Prayer is not so much about convincing God to do what we want God to do as it is about convincing ourselves to do what God wants us to do.” In prayer, we are not arm-wrestling with God. This conversation is not a matter of a winner or a loser. It’s about submission to the sovereignty of God. When we pray, we are not bowing out but bowing down.

Eugene Peterson said, “A changed world begins with us… and a changed us begins when we pray.” So, pray or stay the same. Those are our options. The world needs to change, and that change begins with us, so pray.

Reverend Starlette Thomas* is the interim pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at www.racelessgospel.com. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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