Pray Tell


American philosopher William James said of prayer, “Many reasons have been given why we should not pray, whilst others are given why we should. But in all this very little is said of the reason why we do pray. The reason why we pray is simply that we cannot help praying.” James is right; we cannot help our cries. Life calls for such outbursts in times of joy and pain.

Prayer is a natural response. It is what any child of God would do when in trouble, in need, or in distress. We call on the Creator. No formal training is needed to pray; we need only know God.

One word changes any conversation to prayer: God. The name of the Holy One changes everything, including the address of the answer. It will not come from us and is not dependent upon us. Prayer is the necessary work of submission, of making intercessions and requests.

Prayer is the catch-all, the umbrella because “when it rains, it pours.” The Apostle Paul tells the church at Thessalonica to “pray without ceasing,” to pray nonstop (2 Thess 5:17). We are called to pray though life tries to interrupt our conversation with God. Paul suggests that nothing that happens to us should be able to get a word in edgewise.

Keep praying. Keep your life in the loop with the Divine no matter the circles you travel in or the seasons you experience. Keep talking it out with God. “Come hell or high water,” we must pray.

We may have tried a fire extinguisher, but we are still running around as if our hair has gone up in smoke. After securing our life jacket, we realize that the water is up to our nose and that only prayer can change this, drain this. We put our hands together and, much like applause after a rousing performance, God is summoned. Hands clasped in prayer say, “Encore! Do it again.”

But we must be willing to pray like we can’t help it. We must pray like we cannot help ourselves. Pray tell. In prayer, we are given the space to lay out what makes life laborious, what makes breathing difficult, what gets in the way of understanding, joy, and hope.

Prayer is the medium by which the messiness of life is sorted through, organized, and cleaned up. Our prayers can put things in perspective and people in their place. Just hand it over to God. Still, prayer is the not the means to an end.

Prayer is not a punch list or a checklist to be handed over as if God is our personal assistant. Instead, prayer allows us to work through our beliefs, to talk out our faith and its convictions, to seek and find the answers that our faith provides. Prayer is a way for us to gain clarity and insight. Time and again, I have started a prayer confused and, afterwards, rose with a sense of certainty and peace.

As the words come together and leave my mouth, so does the stress for an answer. Prayer is an immediate response. You and I are literally talking it out, putting the answer outside of us. Prayer is proof of an open relationship with the God who has nothing to hide, access to the God who is omnipresent and yet particularly and specifically available to us. What other means of communication can guarantee this, pray tell?

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 Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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