Is there a difference between thinking and praying?

I’ve wondered about that since I first heard the phrase, “Our thoughts and prayers will be with you.” Doubtless, much of our prayer life (at least in the UM churches I’ve been around which feature much in the way of “silent” prayer) consists of thinking directed at God.

Can we pray without thinking? We can certainly say prayers without thinking. I’ve heard enough pastoral prayers over the years that show no outward evidence of thought.

Can we think without praying? We can certainly think with no intention of addressing God or being overheard by God.

Sometimes our thinking and praying do go together very closely. I remember attending a Christmas music program years ago while in seminary. I’ve always lived Christmas music, so I was looking forward to the program. When it began, however, I noticed that a number of students had brought their families – including little kids – who didn’t know how to be quiet. Perturbed, I silently prayed (thought!), “Lord, why did they have to bring their little kids to ruin the music?” Immediately God answered my prayer: “What are you singing about?” I almost laughed out loud. And then repented.

I don’t think I was mature enough at that time in my life to get beyond myself in that kind of situation. If I had been more spiritual, I would have taken the opportunity to pray for those children and their families – that they might hear the voice of God through the program, that they might even hear the angels as did the shepherds 2000 years ago. I could have prayed for the parents that they would have felt the affirmation and presence of God with their little children – and not just guilt for having noisy children (as a parent for almost 20 years now I’ve been there).

That’s the problem with thinking, in my experience. It’s too often about us. Even when other people are involved, it’s too much about us. Perhaps as we allow our thoughts – and I assume that not all our thoughts originate with us; God is at work! – if others to come to the surface, we can use them as prompts to help us enter a conversation with God about how to pray for the people on our minds.

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