Praying, for me, is one of the most essential yet frustrating things I do as a follower of Christ. It is essential because, like oxygen for the animal or CO2 for the plant, praying comes first and is absolutely necessary for anyone seriously in search of God. However, I get frustrated when I pray.
At times, it feels like shooting up into the wind at nothing. Maybe you feel this way at times, too. If not, let's talk soon! Share with me your way of walking with God. I'll share mine. I bet we'd both be better for it.
I guess prayer is essential simply because it's the way we get in touch. All day, every day, my mind speeds along on the fuel of concepts, ideas, anticipations, and all that's stirred about by this speeding, such as anxiety and, yes, sometimes even depression (though smart people who think a lot about the brain usually put that in reverse order: depression first and then anxiety as, sort of, a chemical symptom or response to the depression. Honestly, I sure don't understand it; yet, I type only about that with which I have some experience). Prayer is essential because it somehow redirects our intention or focus or consciousness away from the riptide of thought to something else. The key to it all may just rest in that sentence. There is something else! something besides the thought-current. I've not read Descartes closely enough to know, but my guess is that he'd have had other opinions. Yet, Eastern thinkers for thousands of years have used his well-known reasoning in the negative form in order to fuel their practice: "'I' don't think. Therefore, 'I' am not." In prayer, though, something shifts away from where it was originally and towards something somewhere else. For me, that shift feels like getting in touch with God and, thus, getting in touch with Self ("self" in me, "self" in you). Consciousness might be the better word.
Jesus was a Self-full person. My favorite stories of Jesus' Self-fullness are those like Mark 6.45-46, where I'm sure Jesus was feeling the riptide in a major way with the joy of the disciples stepping out in ministry for the first time only to demonstrate immediately thereafter their lack of understanding when Jesus feeds 5,000 folk with nearly nothing. Fueling the riptide is the reality that cousin John (and possible mentor and definite forerunner in ministry) has been brutally executed due to cleaver jests of the powers-that-be. Has Jesus missed something in the mission of this all-powerful God that human hubris seems to hand out injustice unanswered? Self-full Jesus knew it was time to get in touch. Otherwise, the thought-current (self-train) would have him...well..."going off the rails on a crazy train"(thanks, Ozzy). Whatever took place in Christ's meditation/prayer time, the next scene has him walking on water and stopping a storm before a whole slew of healings.
I've discovered something in re-discovering my prayer life these days. One of Melissa's favorite verses, from which she's quick to pull the pin and toss my direction when I'm brooding, is Philippians 4.8-9. Praying this morning, I began thinking of challenges in the various realms of my life now. Minutes passed, and I came to my senses in the subconscious realm to find myself speeding in an unintended direction--almost like waking on a box car of a speeding train headed nowhere. Sure, I'm the hobo; but, at that moment, I have no idea how I got on the train. That's where Philippians 4.8 cropped up, and I made the discovery.
Try this in your praying: like the passage says, turn your intention towards...hmm...let's call it potential. Find that fountain God placed within you that sits on the front end of concepts, ideas, and anticipation. It is the before-concepts, the before-ideas, the before-anticipations, and it has even been deemed the "un-create" in some circles. Here lies the eternal fountain of faith, hope, and love. It's potential because it holds all the power of life. We're used to a world that uses up and depletes. Thus, for me at least, dipping from this fountain and running into the wild until the pail lightens appears to be the way of things. Not so. Not so! How do I know? A Self-full man once said so (John 4.14).
Pray there. Live there. Stay there. Go there unceasingly. It is the way (1 Thessalonians 5.16-19, Philippians 4.4-7). On the front end of challenges, amid challenges, even after meeting challenges, Self-full prayer is to the self what soul food is to the soul; and, we, Christian, have been given Self-food to feast upon always (John 4.10, Mark 4.22-24, Matthew 28.20b).