seven different types of prayers, The
Parachin, Victor M
WHEN ASKED TO SHARE HIS THOUGHTS on the power of prayer, a retired missionary quickly recalled an event which took place several years earlier while he was piloting a small Piper Cub airplane. After flying through the clear, blue sky for several hours toward his destination, he saw a sight which filled him with dread. “Directly ahead of me was the boiling, swirling black fury of a summer storm. Below were the mountains. A landing was impossible. I had passed the point of no return and didn’t have enough fuel to get back,” he recalled. His small Piper Cub was not equipped to fly through a storm. Not knowing what to do, he began to fly in a circle while trying to determine a course of action. With his gas gauge registering empty, the man knew he had to attempt a landing at a nearby airport but it meant flying into the storm.
As he piloted his small aircraft into the clouds, the rain began to come down in torrents. Within seconds of entering the storm, the little plane was tossed about like a canoe on an angry sea. The plane’s instrument were spinning crazily. He had no way of knowing if the Piper Cub was flying upside down, on its side, or right side up. He couldn’t see the ground or the sky, only a swirling blackness. I was completely helpless to do anything except pray to God to help me,” he said.
Immediately after the prayer, a tiny break appeared in the clouds directly below him. He could see the ground. With a shout of joy, he flew the little Cub through the small hole in the clouds. Right below was the airport. Desperately, he guided his plane toward the runway. Even though he approached from the wrong direction and overshot the runway, he landed safely. As he taxied back to the hanger, the tiny hole in the clouds closed into complete blackness again. Later he learned that the small break in the clouds lasted only a few moments, and that it was the only break in the ceiling all afternoon. The pilot concluded his thoughts on prayer saying: “Passing the point of no return when only destruction lies ahead is a frightening experience, but knowing that our God can answer our prayers gives us comfort, courage and joy.”
That pilot’s dramatic experience is an example of the most common kind of prayer, that of seeking divine aid. While such prayer is very important, there are six other types of prayer. A balanced spirituality means engaging in all seven ways of praying and not just utilizing one or two. Here are the seven different types of prayer.
This is prayer at its most basic level, that of asking. Prayers of petition are perhaps the most frequent forms of prayer. It was the prayer of the pilot. It is the prayer of a student asking for help with school, the prayer of a father for his sick child, or the prayer of a wife concerned over her relationship with her husband. We pray to God because we are in need or a friend is in trouble. The crisis may be major or minor, but we approach God requesting aid.
Of course, there is a clear biblical basis for the prayer of petition. The prophet Isaiah declared, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you…. I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (46:4). In the New Testament, Jesus stressed the importance of expressing all our needs to God. In John 16:24, Jesus told the disciples, “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be compete.” The apostle James faulted some Christians, saying they did not enjoy God’s blessings because they failed to offer the prayer of petition: “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (4:2). The message from such biblical texts is that God wants to hear our concerns. They indicate that God is saying, “Talk to me. Ask me. Tell me exactly what you need and want.”
While the prayer of petition may be the most common and popular, the prayer of confession may be the most difficult for many people. It is never easy to itemize and confess our sins, shortcomings, or failures and then ask forgiveness. Yet, confession is the path which leads to emotional and spiritual cleansing. The New Testament makes a link between confession and health: “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed ” (Jas 5:16). The Old Testament cites this benefit which flows from confession: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prv 28:13). If offering the prayer of confession is difficult for you, then consider this insight from writer Louis Cassels: “In confession.. we open our lives to the healing, reconciling, restoring, uplifting grace of him who loves us in spite of what we are.”
This is the prayer offered when you simply want to eulogize God. A prayer of adoration and praise should flow naturally from a heart fully aware of God’s great blessings.
“It is always springtime in the heart that loves God,” noted the 19th century French pastor, Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney. Such prayers of adoration and praise are commonly found in the Psalms: “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips” (34:1); “1 sing praise to you; you, 0 God, are my fortress, my loving God” (59:17); “Praise the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord; praise him, you servants of the Lord” (135:1). Those with the deepest spirituality are able to offer prayers of praise and adoration in even the more despairing of circumstances.
One splendid example is that of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman imprisoned by the Nazis. From the bleakness of her concentration camp, Hillesum was able to offer this prayer of adoration and praise:
The misery here is quite terrible, and yet I often walk with a spring in my step …. Time and again, it soars straight from my heart, this feeling that life is glorious and magnificent…. You have made me so rich, 0 God: please let me share your beauty with open hands.”
Another form of prayer, important to many people, is the prayer of intercession. These are prayers offered on behalf of others, especially those who suffer and hurt from life’s blows. A biblical example of intercessory prayer is that of Moses who prayed for his sister, Miriam, suffering with leprosy. The bible records Moses’ concern this way: “So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘0 God, please heal her!'” (Nm 12:14). Miriam was fully healed seven days later.
A more recent example of the power of intercessory prayer is shared by Sandy, a 35-year-old mother of two. Sadly, she and her husband had decided to separate. That decision had an immediate negative impact upon their eight- and three-year-old boys who were having difficulty sleeping. Deeply distressed by the separation and the turmoil upon her sons, Sandy confided her marital troubles to a neighbor whom she barely knew. The neighbor listened compassionately, offered to help in any way she could, and said she would pray for Sandy, her husband, and the boys. Sandy recalls:
My neighbor’s kindness and offer of prayer brought some hope to my life. Shortly after our conversation I was amazed when my husband called, suggesting we go for counseling to see if the marriage could be salvaged. We were both afraid of what would come of the counseling, but we did go. Sometimes our discussions were painful, but in the end we decided to try a six-month reunion. Today, more than a year later, we have a great sense of peace and happiness in our marriage and with our children. In the months since I confided in my neighbor, she has continued her prayers on our behalf. I will always appreciate deeply her prayers on our behalf.
“If I were a physician, and I were allowed to prescribe one remedy for all the ills of the world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, how could one hear it with so much noise? Therefore, create silence!” That insight comes from the 19th century Danish Christian, Soren Kierkegaard. Meditation is an important spiritual discipline. In those quiet moments, we open the soul widely to sense God’s direction, love, and admonition. Being silent in the presence of God is an effective way of re-establishing contact with a slice of eternity. Quiet meditation is also ideal when we are experiencing inner turmoil because prayerful silence soothes the anxious soul, calms the spirit, helps us think more clearly, and, ultimately, pray more wisely.
Because God has blessed us abundantly, prayers of thanksgiving should flow from our hearts and lips naturally, routinely, and frequently. Ralph Waldo Emerson often offered this prayer of gratitude:
For each new morning with its light,
Father, we thank thee,
For rest and shelter of the night,
Father, we thank thee,
For health and food,
for love and friends,
For everything thy goodness sends,
Father, in heaven, we thank thee.
This prayer involves surrendering completely to God’s will and service. It is offered by sensitive, responsive Christians. When they see a need, they desire to fulfill it, and when they see a hurt, they work to heal it. History is filled with ordinary women and men who did extraordinary things because they consecrated their lives to God. Such committed individuals include Mother Teresa working among the destitute in Calcutta, India; Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the British physician who labored among Eskimos, Indians, and Whites in Labrador, Canada; General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, working in the slums of London, England; St. Vincent De Paul, who ministered to the poor in France and ransomed slaves from North Africa; Dorothy Day, whose deep sense ofjustice led her to open dozens of shelters that provide food, housing, and clothing for America’s impoverished citizens.
Of course, consecrated lives are also found among those overlooked by historical accounts: the husband who remains faithful and serves compassionately at the side of his terminally ill wife; the mother who prays earnestly and fervently for a wayward child; the young person who consistently resists peer pressure to engage in wrongful activities; and an executive who applies the highest moral and ethical standards to his work.
Cultivating these seven types of prayer will result in a more rounded and satisfying spiritual life because prayer is a way of educating the soul. The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevski noted, “Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.”
Victor M. Parachin, M.Div., an ordained minister and counselor, lives in Southern California. He is the author of several books, his most recent being Daily Strength: One Year of Experiencing the Psalms (Liguori Triumph Books).
Copyright Spiritual Life Winter 1998
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