Prayer: The Vertical Component
So, why do we pray? Sometimes, when my two boys would ask "Why?!" I would say, "Because I said so." Why do we pray? At the simplest, the answer to that question is "Because God says so." But I do think there is more to it.
The James scripture is the last few verses of the book of James. It is a letter that was written, not to a particular church, like Ephesians or Corinthians, but to scattered churches. It concerns itself with heavenly wisdom, as opposed to worldly wisdom, and it urges Christians to live a life that reflects their beliefs. Perhaps the most famous verse from the book of James is part of the second chapter, verse 26: for faith without works is dead. The book of James has three main concerns: taking care in how we speak, showing care to those in distress and living lives that resist worldly sins. I think it might be surprising that a book so full of action would end on words that encourage prayer. And yet, Pope Francis said, "You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That's how prayer works." There is wisdom for us in that.
For me, a cross illustrates the function of prayer in our lives. There is the vertical bar - it represents the commandment to love God - and prayer is our connection to God. There is the horizontal bar - representing the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves - and prayer connects us to community.
When I think about prayer, I'm stunned and amazed that the creator of the universe wants us to pray. As a child, I took it for granted. As an adult, I know that it is extraordinary that God offers us an invitation to be in relationship. Think about that for a moment.
But it's not only that - God not only wants to be in relationship with us, but God wants to partner with us in the work of God in the world. Mark Douglas wrote, "...prayer uniquely binds human and divine activity together such that it is difficult to see where one ends and the other begins."
A few years ago, I had a stack of "thinking about you" greeting cards on my desk. I was considering what to do with them. I took some time in prayer, and while I was listening, being quiet, a few names came to mind, so I sent the cards to those people. A week or two later, one of the women to whom I sent a card made a special effort to stop by to see me (from out of town). She said that she had been in the hospital, and the card arrived the day she got home, and it was exactly what she needed to hear - she had been so encouraged by it. The truth is, I didn't know she was even sick, and yet I sent her a card. God did that. I did that. I don't know where the dividing line is, but it is prayer that makes it possible.
Philip Yancey wrote in his book Prayer, "The partnership binds so tight that it becomes hard to distinguish who is doing what, God or the human partner. God has come that close...the advance in intimacy is striking." The truth is, God has work for us to do, together, and that is why we pray. And I challenge you to get that close to God and not be changed.