Many people pray, whether or not they admit it. People of faith all pray to the God or gods of their religion. Others pray before meals, on major holidays, weddings or some other large occasion. Countless other people pray when there is some kind of terror or challenge or disaster.
But I have to ask the question: when you pray, who do you pray to?
And I ask this question as a question of self-examining.
Who do you pray to?
This springs out from a parable the Jesus tells to the self-righteous.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the story of two men, a Pharisee and a tax-collector, who go the temple to pray (18:9-14).
I want to focus on the Pharisee who is praying. The Kings James Version states that when the Pharisee prays, he “‘stood and prayed thus with himself…'”(18:11)
The NASB says that the Pharisee “‘was praying this to himself…'”
Note what is implied here: the Pharisee prayed to himself, not to God. He was so self-centered, so self-righteous, believing in his own works so surely, that he prayed to himself.
In C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”, Screwtape has these suggestions for his nephew, Wormwood, regarding prayer:
“The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently reconverted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguley devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part. One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray “with moving lips and bended knees” but merely “composed his spirit to love” and indulged “a sense of supplication.” That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time. At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
“I have known cases where what the patient calls his ‘God’ was actually located– up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it– to the thing that he as made, not to the Person who has made him.” (The Screwtape Letters, #4)
I struggle with this myself. I have to check myself when I pray and evaluate whether or not I am actually praying to God. If I’m not praying to God, I ask forgiveness, re-focus, and then continue praying.
So, what about you? When you pray, who do you pray to?