How we pray
Members of various denominations reflect on the ways they talk to God
By STARLA POINTER
Now I lay me down to sleep ... ."
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
"Please, God, if you'll just get me out of this situation, I promise ... ."
"Hi, Lord, it's good to talk with you again."
How people pray depends on their upbringing, current religious views and the situation.
Some Yamhill County residents pray regularly; others wait until the water is rising and no other life preserver is in view. Some talk to God only in private, or offer up a silent prayer in a crowd. Others lift their voices in joyful praise or agonized sorrow, declaring their faith for all to hear.
Some people pray on a schedule, once a day or more. Others pray when the spirit moves them, and for some, that's most of the time. Some belong to prayer chains or groups that they say multiply the strength of their requests for healing and peace.
Some recite written prayers; some say prayers memorized in childhood; some sing out their praises. Others simply open their hearts for a conversation with God. For some, every action is a prayer.
Prayer sets the tone for many meetings and public gatherings. It offers comfort, release and a way to clarify feelings. It's a way for people to show God that they believe in his power and his willingness to listen and assist.
However they do it and whatever the reason why, for those who pray, prayer is a tremendous positive force.
Conversations with God
Adam Brown and Janelle Davis, both students at St. James School, sometimes pray out loud. More often, they pray silently.
"I usually just think in my head. I talk to God when I'm feeling upset or angry, tell him what's wrong and ask for help," said Adam, a fourth-grader.
"It helps to have him to talk to. It makes me feel better," said Adam, son of Dan and Shirley Brown.
Prayer helps second-grader Janelle feel better, too.
"Like this morning, my stomach felt upset, so I told God and I started to feel OK," said Janelle, daughter of Margaret Davis and Effran Davis.
"Or when I'm upset, I go in my room and pray, sometimes out loud," she said.
Both youngsters said they try to remember to pray every day, although they don't have any set schedule.
Sometimes it's a quick, silent prayer during school. Sometimes it's a formal prayer during mass at St. James Catholic Church. Sometimes it's grace when they sit down to dinner with their families.
Before meals and at many other times, their prayers include words of gratitude, the children said.
"We say, "Thank you, God, for this wonderful food,'" Adam said.
Janelle's family also says grace, sometimes by bowing their heads quietly and sometimes by speaking together. "We say thank you because it's nice to have food - we need to have food," she said. "Some people don't have food or homes or clothes, you know."
She and Adam also tell God about their desires. "My mom said I might get a horse after she finishes school. Sometimes I pray for a horse," Janelle said.
She said she also asks God for another Sheltie as a companion to the family dog, Tea.
Adam said he sometimes prays for things he wants to happen. Last year, he prayed before his Triple A baseball team started playoff games.
"I prayed we could go through them and not have any problems," he said. "And I prayed that we could maybe even win, which did happen."
After his team won the championship, the players celebrated by dumping water on their coach, Adam's dad.
Adam remembered his post-game prayers, as well. "I told God thanks," he said.
Power of prayer
Linda Hoskins was always interested in prayer, but said she didn't fully understand its power until she saw a demonstration.
In 1987, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Prior to surgery, the cancer was definitely present, she said, but afterward it was completely gone. Her prayers were answered.
"I know the Lord healed me," she said.
Hoskins grew up attending the Catholic Church. Although she now is a member of the McMinnville Nazarene Church on the Hill, she values her Catholic background. She said it gave her the desire to seek God.
Her background in Catholicism also reinforced the importance of having respect and awe for God's power, in addition to thinking of him as a loving heavenly father, friend and counselor.
Hoskins was born again in 1976. "I was set free when I realized I could have him in my heart and I didn't have to go through others," she said.
Still, she said, "prayer wasn't as important to me back then as it is now. It becomes more important as I grow with the Lord and understand what he says."
The importance of prayer is underscored in lessons in the Bible, she said. For instance, when Jesus is praying in the garden, his disciples fall asleep even though he asks them to watch and pray with him. Hoskins believes the disciples would have been changed if they had managed to stay awake.
"We'll never know, this side of Heaven, how much we should pray," she said.
She prays daily. "I pray all day long, when someone comes to mind, or for my kids, to say thanks or for all kinds of reasons," she said. "I just talk to God. He's always with me; I don't have to kneel or do specific things, because he's there."
Each morning, she does her devotions, reads the word and works on a Bible study. Before she starts, she puts on the armor of God.
The symbolic ritual comes from Ephesians, in which followers are told to stand firm against the Devil by putting on the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the sword of the spirit and shoes that represent preparations for peace.
Hoskins facilitates a Wednesday night prayer ministry at the Nazarene Church. A small group gathers at 6 p.m., then a larger group joins them to attend to prayer requests written by the congregation the previous Sunday. This week, in honor of the National Day of Prayer, the group will pray for President Bush and other government officials.
Prayer group members start their meetings by putting on the armor, just as Hoskins does at home. They asked God to cleanse their hearts. Then they take turns praying and listening.
They don't use written prayers. "We want it to come from the heart," she said. Some prayer group members are eloquent and poetic; some make simple statements asking for God's help.
Both are equally effective, she said. "God hears both. It doesn't matter if it's two words or 1,000, as long as it's from the heart."
Prayer group meetings end with the Lord's Prayer. It's a special part of the evening.
"At one time, we recited it. Now we pray it," she said, explaining the difference between rote memorization and sincere meaning. "It's intimate. It's from our hearts."
Harmony with God
Prayer is Kurt Hein's way of becoming more in tune with God.
"When we pray, what we're asking is to harmonize with his will," said Hein, a member of the faith called Baha'i.
The McMinnville man prays daily as recommended by Baha'U'llah, which is the title given to a prophet who lived 150 years ago. Baha'is believe Baha'U'llah is the current manifestation of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was the manifestation 2,000 years ago.
The "Baha'i Prayers" book contains numerous prayers and instructions written by Baha'U'llah. Some are called "obligatory," suggested for daily repetition; others are for various occasions or needs.
Baha'is also pray the Lord's Prayer, presented by Jesus in the Bible.
"We're privileged to not feel limited to one prayer, but to have many," Hein said.
Both Baha'U'llah's prayers and those in the Bible come from the same source, he said. Baha'is worship the same God as people who refer to themselves as Christians or by other labels.
"There is one God, whether he is called Allah or Dios or Dieu," Hein said.
Baha'is also pray with their own words. Every human has the ability and right to say what he or she wants to say to God, they believe.
Hein explained, "What matters is the meaning, the melody, the spiritual realm. What matters is the life we live."
He often compares prayer to music. A written prayer is like sheet music, he said. "God has given me an instrument to use. In saying prayers, I'm trying to get in tune with his purpose."
Hein said his wife, devoted to praying, begins and ends each day with prayer, and offers numerous prayers between those times.
He also prays daily, often aloud. "Every afternoon I focus my attention on conversing with my Lord," he said. In addition, he prays morning, night and whenever he is moved to do so.
He likes to say Baha'U'llah's short obligatory prayer: "I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting."
His wife, Delane Border Hein, prefers the long obligatory. In addition to words, the longer prayer includes directions about motions, such as raising the hands in supplication or turning to face a specific direction.
Hein's health keeps him from doing some of the postures. Yet he savors the experience of prostrating himself before the Lord, he said.
"Postures can help with the rhythm of your life and attitude. Kneeling or prostrating yourself is part of our first and most significant task, to honor and respect our Lord," he said
Hein's spiritual journey began with a physical trip: a college course taught on a ship as it sailed around the world.
"I visited 17 countries and saw a variety of colors and cultures and places of worship, from a field in Africa to St. Paul's Cathedral. I met Hindus and Buddhists and Christians and Muslims," he said. "It was an incredible gift. I understood that I was a member of a global community."
Not long after that, while studying at the University of Oregon, he met a group of Baha'is. They told him Baha'U'llah teaches that the Earth is one country, all people are its citizens and there is one God who is called by many names.
"I realized I was a Baha'i," he said. "It wasn't matter of conversion, but of affirmation."
He'd been baptized a Lutheran. His various grandparents embraced Judaism, Christian Science, Catholicism and the Methodist faith - a fitting background for someone who would become a Baha'i, he said.
"It's not the label you wear, but how you behave," said Hein, whose parents and in-laws eventually became Baha'i, as well.
In keeping with their world view, the Heins lived and worked in two dozen countries before coming to Linfield College. Their home is filled with artifacts from Guinea, other African countries, Ecuador, Canada and other former homes.
They have visited Israel several times. Hein said he found tremendous spiritual fulfillment in sitting by the Sea of Galilee, "celebrating the reality of Christ's presence."
Wherever he is, God's presence is an important part of his life. He thought about it a lot on Wednesday, the day following his mother's death in Southern California. He said he was filled with gratitude to God about the years his family had together and for all the other good things in his life.
"Especially at times like this, it's precious for me to regularly turn to my Lord and pray for consciousness and the beauty of being in tune," he said.
Hein said his mother's death showed him a beautiful example of the power of prayer.
His wife boarded a plane to Los Angeles soon after they learned the death was imminent. He stayed in McMinnville, unable to travel.
"Delane was praying all the way. About 10 o'clock, she was moved to pray for my mother's departure. At 10:30, I got a call from my brother, telling me that my mother had died 40 minutes earlier," he said. "It was an example of two beautiful souls in tune."
Asking for guidance
While Taralyn Ottley sets out to pray at least twice a day, she usually ends up saying many more prayers. "I ask for guidance almost continuously," the McMinnville High School senior said.
"Prayer is a very important part of my life. I feel like my Heavenly Father is my best friend. He knows everything, but I also want to tell him about things," she said.
Ottley prays as she sits down to dinner with her mother, Holly Ottley, and the rest of her family. She prays during services at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She prays when she starts her homework or as the teacher is handing out a test.
"When I study, I pray for the knowledge I need, that God will open my mind to learn and that I'll remember what I need to know," she said.
A few days ago, she was involved in a minor car accident. She was praying as the vehicles collided. She asked that the people be spared injury, that they would be kind to one another, and that her mind would be clear so she would be able to provide information to the police.
Ottley, 18, schedules one class period a day for formal prayer-related studies in her church's seminary program. She walks a block to the converted house in which LDS teens study the Book of Mormon and the Bible.
Her seminary classes start with a song, then students and the volunteer teacher fold their arms and pray. After a devotional message, they study the holy books.
"I love coming here. I like being with other kids with the same beliefs and being away from the profanity and all the other stresses of school," Ottley said.
She and other students, whether they attend her church or not, also come to the seminary during breaks to relax or play pingpong.
Ottley loves to pray out loud when she is in private. Speaking aloud to the Lord helps her concentrate, she said.
In more public settings, like school, she prays silently. "Either way, he's going to hear my prayers," she said.
As a little girl, she recalled, she asked God to help her sleep and to protect her family. "Now my prayers are more in-depth, more personal, more focused on the things I need to work on," she said. "They also last a lot longer than two seconds."
She focuses on the same topics, such as her family, again and again, but the words of her prayers are different each day. She explained that LDS believers don't use repetitive prayers.
"We want to make prayer more personal. I do take my relationship with the Savior personally," she said.
Next year, Ottley will begin studying pre-med at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She'll take along her well-thumbed Bible and her Book of Mormon, its verses highlighted in a rainbow of colors.
Marked in pink is her favorite verse from the Doctrines and Covenants, the last half of the Book of Mormon. "Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work."
Building a relationship
The Bible is God's communication to man, said the Rev. Ron Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel in McMinnville.
Prayer is the way men can communicate with God.
"The Bible says he knows us and knows what we need, but it also tells us if you seek then you will find," he said.
Since God already knows our needs and problems, prayer is a way we can clarify those things in our own minds, said Smith, who has been a minister for more than three decades.
Prayer is also an act of faith, a way to acknowledge that you believe the Lord is listening and is ready to help. "Without faith, it is impossible to please God," he said.
Mostly, Smith said, he looks at his own prayers as a way of maintaining his relationship with God. He prays informally every day, unloading his burdens, asking for wisdom and saying thanks.
"It's not just a matter of seeking God at a time of need. If we ask only when we need or want, we're treating God like Santa Claus rather than as someone we have a relationship with," he said. "It's like being married: You talk as part of maintaining the relationship, not just when you want your spouse to do something for you."
Smith has seen his prayers change over the years. Like those of any child, his youthful prayers were more self-centered and about his own wants.
"I hope as we grow older, we're asking God what he might want of us, how he might use us, and how we might benefit the people God has placed in our lives," he said. "I hope my praying is less self-centered and more God-centered and other-centered."
In his personal prayers, he prays aloud or silently, depending on his surroundings and the intensity of the moment. In his work, he leads prayers during Calvary Chapel services and small group meetings.
Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Smith led open prayer meetings that attracted many people. "I think 9-11 had an effect on most of us. It gave us the sense that the world is bigger than us and that we need help we can't generate on our own. We need God's help," he said.
Those group prayers were especially significant, Smith said. "The Bible says, 'When two or three are gathered in My name ... .' There's a special kind of power when people pray together."
Giving life over to God
Prayer is a way to show gratitude to, reliance on and support for God, said Dr. Lynn Bryson, pastor of the McMinnville Seventh-day Adventist Church. "I find the longer I live, the more I cannot do without prayer," he said.
He prays daily - most of the time, in fact. He said he talks to God when he's in the car or in his office, just as if the Holy Spirit were right beside him. Which it is, Bryson said.
"Talking to God at those times is different than when I have my face to the ground, but the prayers are just as meaningful," he said.
Bryson avoids written prayers, preferring to pray what's in his heart and mind at the moment. One exception is the Lord's prayer. "I use that, but I add to it. I apply each phrase to me personally," he explained.
Praying to God relieves Bryson of stress. "The tasks I have to deal with aren't my tasks, they're his," he explained. "I've given my life over to him to run."
Giving up control isn't easy, especially for Americans, who are taught to do things for themselves, Bryson said.
"But when I try to do things on my own, I fail," he said. "Jesus said without him, we can do nothing. That is so true."
Bryson said he likes to pray aloud because that helps him focus. In a crowd, he might pray silently. Either way, "I know he can hear me. I don't need an appointment."
God knows our needs, but it's still important to ask for help, Bryson said. "The benefit of addressing him is that when he responds, we recognize it's an answer to prayer. Prayer is more for us than for him," he said.
Bryson said he is moved by the writings of Civil War chaplain Ian Bounds, who wrote, "When we pray, we allow God to do that which He would not otherwise do had we not asked."
In other words, Bryson said, "God doesn't force himself upon us. He's fair; he limits himself unless we ask him to intervene."
Praying also gives God the support he needs in the ongoing battle between Satan and Christ, he said.
Bryson, who attended the LDS seminary in the mid-1980s, learned a special lesson about praying and giving himself over to God in 1986. A plane crash left him paralyzed from the waist down. Not long after that, he also suffered a brain tumor.
"There were some dark days following the crash. There were times I was tempted to give up, but Lord has sustained me through prayer," he said.
Philippians 4:6-7 says praying leads to "the peace that passes all understanding."
"I love that phrase," Bryson said. "It's one of the greatest gifts he gives in response to prayer. You can't understand that unless you've experienced it."
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