Prayer is often described as a conversation with God, and this is true. We are exchanging words—human for holy, mundane for mysterious. But, more than catching up with a really, really old Friend, we open our mouths and enter divine passages. Often repeating the words of the psalmists, our experiences are well-traveled:
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.… The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? … Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.… Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart. But, as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked… But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end.… How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God (Ps. 23:1; 27:1; 51:1; 73:1-3, 16-17, NRSV)
And while our troubles or testimony may have prompted us to speak, God has been talking to us all along. Prayer, then, is call and response. It is directed speech. Our prayer life is only evidence of collaboration. We speak because God first spoke to us.
The Word-God, creation occurs in conversation. God had more to say after the seventh day, made evident by the fresh winds of Pentecost that many of us recently observed during our weekly worship. More than red shirts and fire analogies, this experience represents the God of every tongue. No red tape here. God was and is still creating.
Not to be confused with a pep talk, we are being formed and our way made clear. But, more than that, God is not all talk. We are going somewhere together. A padded pew is not the final stop.
God’s tongue is a tool in our re-creation. Not to trip us up, God’s words are meant to guide us. Because there is more to be said here, more to be seen here. Commanded to “pray without ceasing,” our lips and our lives do not stop moving (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Eugene Peterson writes in Answering God: The Psalms As Tools for Prayer, “Prayers are not tools for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.… Prayers are tools that God uses to work his will in our bodies and souls.” Yes, prayer not only changes things—but us. New creatures, we are changed as we walk and talk with God.
And prayer takes us places. Not your favorite travel destination, prayer is not a mini-vacation from reality or Sunday service. This is not talk of “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by.” Instead, prayer is a journey to the true self, the new self, where we find our voice and our way in conversation with God. One word after another, our God-given identity is revealed.
Opening our mouths in prayer will open our eyes, but not to a yellow brick road as it may not be well-paved or brightly colored. But, it is the journey of our life’s time, of fully being and wholly becoming.
Reverend Starlette Thomas* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at www.racelessgospel.com. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.