How Can We Pray?

PrayerThe mind will always find the answer most convenient for the mind.

Even in its search for spiritual enlightenment, the mind will only rest where there is enough room to remain a mind. Therefore, on its own, the mind can never grasp G-d.

To reach G-d takes a sense that is beyond the need to exist; the essential knowledge of the inner soul. Only once the mind has drunk from that fountain can it be trusted to see beyond itself. Only then can it see the place where mind ceases to exist.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Convenient Mind”
Chabad.org

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.James 4:2-3

We struggle all our lives to find our connection to God. Both Rabbi Freeman and James, brother of the Master, illustrate how we can get in our own way and inhibit that connection. We “settle” for a connection that we can understand and that fits with our “worldview”. We pray, but only to satisfy our desires and lusts and not to do His will. What do we know about God’s will for prayer?

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’” –Matthew 6:9-13

If prayer seems difficult, it is only because we pray with the wrong motives and the wrong expectations. We pray to serve ourselves and not God, yet Jesus made it clear that, from His grace and mercy, God would take care of our needs too, if only we would pray:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. –John 14:12-14

If we know that God will meet our needs in the name of the Son, what else prevents us from “talking” to God? Certainly not God Himself, as we discover in this teaching from Chabad.org.

Once upon a busy life–maybe even two, three times or more–some of us are struck with a sense of being so small within something much larger and wouldn’t it be good for the two of us to have a chat. In other words, we would like to speak with G-d.

It’s not as outlandish as it seems; people do it all the time. Most never stop to think what is really going on, for if they did, they wouldn’t be able to open their mouths. But it is so essential to human life, so we continue on nonetheless.

We call it prayer, and we believe the second party of this dialogue is just as eager to join–if not yet more eager than ourselves.

To this lesson, Rabbi Naftali Silberberg adds:

Prayer comes naturally when a person, G-d forbid, experiences hardships. But passionate prayer when all is (relatively) well is, in a certain sense, a far more meaningful experience. Because our conversations with G-d serve a dual purpose: they are an opportunity to beseech our Provider for health, prosperity and nachas from our children; but more importantly, they are also moments when we connect with our beloved Father in Heaven. Indeed, to a certain extent, the content of our prayers is less significant than the experience itself–an opportunity to connect with G-d.

You have His attention; speak as long as you wish! The great sage Rabbi Yochanan summed it up with these words: “If only a person could pray all day long!”

Praying with TefillinGod is listening to you. He is always listening to you, waiting for you to make the connection. All you have to do is start talking. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. No quality you possess or lack will prevent God from hearing your prayers. Even if you’ve turned away from Him, you can always turn back to Him, as illustrated by how Rabbi Freeman answered this question:

Question: “I don’t feel that that I have any right to pray to G-d. I’m not religious at all. Over the years, I’ve committed many sins. Since I’ve turned against G-d and transgressed His commandments, how can I approach Him in prayer?”

Answer: “Each morning, when we wake up, we say in our prayers, ‘My G-d, the soul You gave me is pure…’

No matter what you do with your life, your soul remains pure. Even at the time you are committing the worst crime, your soul screams inside like a captive woman, remaining faithful to her Beloved Above.

And now you want to take away from her that last opportunity to scream out loud for help?”

If God only heard the prayers of the righteous, God would hear no prayers at all. You do not have to be righteous. You do not have to be perfect. You do not have to say “magic” words or pray by a formula. All you have to do is start talking. God is waiting…and listening.

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