The candles were lined up in perfect rows. The red glow emanating from some of them meant that they had already received the name of someone who was now being prayed for. A few of the glass votives contained candles that were burned completely out and needed to be replaced.
That's what happened when you lit a prayer candle in my childhood church. It burned until the candle burned completely out. If you wanted to have your prayers carried to heaven on a flame in a glass red votive, you lit a brand new candle and let it burn until it couldn't burn anymore. When I was a child it was considered a right of passage to be old enough to light a candle for yourself- there was, after all, a flaming stick involved. But the right to pray belonged to everyone- whether you were flame-worthy or not.
I have always loved to pray. From the time I was very little I would pray child prayers - the ones that start with Dear God and end with I love you. When I was a little older, I would write prayers for special events as if they were greeting cards tucked away to to be opened for a celebration. When I was older still, I would spend my time talking to God as if he was in the room -but only when no one was around so I didn't appear crazy! I preferred, even relished in, this non-stop conversation model of prayer. As a teenager, time alone with God in prayer saved me.
As I have matured, my prayer life has matured too. Time in prayer is not simply about me and what I need from God. Its also about God and what he desires for and from me. In his book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller suggests that "prayer, in its fullest sense, is continuing a conversation that God has started through his word and his grace which eventually becomes a full encounter with him."
As I think back to why and how prayer has carried me throughout my life, I realize that Scripture was, and is, the way my prayers connect me to the Holy One. In this praying relationship, the Word creates a deep knowledge and understanding of the One who listens, comforts, guides, and forgives. Scripture helps me know how to pray and what to expect from the one who answers those prayers.
When I feel alone, praying reminds me I am not alone.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD yourGod goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 31:6
When I am afraid, praying reminds me I can make it through.
“The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.” -Psalm 118:6-7
When I am confused, outward conversations with God allows me to talk myself into some kind of ordered understanding.
“Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.” -Proverbs 2:9-11
When I am hurting, someone is close by who understands my pain and catches my tears.
“But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” -Job 36:15
When I am anxious, I have someone I can rely on to be my worry partner. (I know God isn't anxious for anything, but there is always reassurance in having someone with me on the worry train.)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:6-7
When things happened that made me wonder why- or how- the world could work in such a way- I am comforted by knowing that God had an answer even if I didn't.
"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD." -Isaiah 55:8
There are many ways to pray, many kinds of prayers, and many postures of prayer, but knowing and trusting God and leaning into His grace and goodness is where I meet Him. I pray without ceasing and encourage you to also. In prayer, His light will shine with the unceasing glow of a burning votive candle into your heart, reassuring you that the darkness will not overcome it.