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What is prayer? How does it work?

Human beings have prayed for thousands of years.

Most of us who are people of faith give prayer a significant place in our daily routine. That’s not new. Human beings of various faith traditions have been praying for thousands of years.

Many learned simple prayers at our mother’s or father’s knee: prayers like the Our Father, also known as the Lord’s Prayer. It’s likely that this prayer was one of the first steps to what has become a personal relationship with God.

Actually, we don’t need any words at all in order to pray. We start when someone—a parent or a friend, perhaps—introduces us to the person called “God.” It starts with a child’s relationship and grows deeper and deeper as we mature and connect with our innate sense that there is a Holy Mystery beyond and within us. Eventually, we may read stories of how God has entered the lives of other people, and these stories draw us deeper into our own desire to know more about God, and to know God.

"Our prayer doesn’t change
God’s mind, it changes us."

"We don’t need any words at all
in order to pray."

"Prayer fills the whole universe
with hope and promise."

Jesus prayed.

As people develop a habit of prayer they may begin to read the Bible. There, we can learn about the whole family of relationships that surround our connections to God. We learn that God sent into the world his only Son, Jesus. Jesus, like many of us, first learned to know God from his parents. But as Jesus grew and matured in faith, he came to know his Abba (A Chaldean word for father) for himself. He would sometimes go off to the hills alone where he might sit and be quiet. In that stillness, Jesus could open his heart to his Father and learn what his Father might want him to do for others.

Jesus invited others to pray with him.

When we form a deep relationship with someone, we often grow to love that person. That leads us to want to tell others what we have learned. Jesus did that, too. His love for his Father filled his heart so profoundly that he spent much of his time telling others about his Father. He invited others to pray with him, and he continues to invite us even today to enter that same relationship with his Father. When we share what has touched our hearts in prayer, we touch the lives of others and welcome them into our relationship with Jesus and his Father. Have you come to know Jesus in this way? Have you been introduced to the Father? What would you most like to say to Jesus about his Father, about your own love?

What are we doing when we pray for one another?

When we first learn to pray, we often start by asking God for help. We may have questions we want to ask God or problems we need to solve. Eventually, as our prayer develops, we stretch out our hearts and our prayers to include the needs of others. Perhaps we have a family member who is ill. Or maybe we know someone who is in serious, seemingly intractable trouble. We worry about those persons and eventually, we may take their needs to God and ask that God touch them with mercy and bring comfort, even healing. People often did that when Jesus was walking the earth. They lifted up a friend or a neighbor, a son or a daughter and asked Jesus to touch that person with compassion and healing grace. Jesus always responded with compassion.

How does prayer help?

So, too, we can lift up friends and relatives, even strangers far away who are in need. We pray for the children in places far from our personal experience who don’t have enough food to survive. We pray for people who are seriously ill both far away and close at hand. We might ask ourselves, “What good does it do to pray for others? How does it help them or us?” The answer has to do, first, with what prayer does for us. Prayer draws our attention to the God who loves us deeply. When we pray for ourselves or for another, we pay attention to God. We remember the God who loves us and reflect on the fact that God loves every single person in the world. Our prayer doesn’t change God’s mind, it changes us. It helps us change our own minds and hearts. It deepens our trust in God and our confidence that God really does love us. Even if we think we don’t get what we pray for, our consciousness of God’s nearness is heightened and transforms us into conduits of God’s love and care. We become aware that God is near, that God never turns away from us and is, indeed, within us. That can bring us deep peace, even in difficult circumstances.

We are happy to support you and your loved ones with our prayer.

Do you know the most frequently asked question people ask us sisters? You may be surprised. Most often people will ask us, “Will you pray for me?” or “Please pray for my mother who is sick. Will you offer a prayer for my family in need?” Our answer to such questions is always, “Yes.” Of course, people can, and do, pray for themselves or for their own families. But people seem to trust that when we say we will pray for someone, we mean it. If we promise to pray, people believe we will do so. And that gives people a great sense of comfort. It also gives hope and encouragement to us. It’s a blessing to know that people “out there” have confidence in the prayers of our sisters, even if they’ve never met us. It’s as if that prayer fills the whole universe with hope and promise. And, indeed, it does!

Learn more about the Dominican Sisters ministry of prayer.

1 thought on “What is prayer? How does it work?”

  1. Pingback: Colette Barker: Prayer Central Director, Sacred Heart Convent - Dominican Sisters of Springfield Illinois

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