Local pastors discuss the everyday importance of faith

MADDY JONES - INDEX-JOURNAL People turn to prayer the most in time stress.

Many area clergy agree that people use prayer as way to relieve stress. However, they also remind us that there are other reasons to pray.

"We should be faithful in prayer," said Tony Hopkins, pastor at First Baptist Church in Greenwood. "That is not contingent on our circumstances. God does not send upon us crises. Crises happen."

Hopkins said he knows people get angry with God and they stop praying. However, he said people should let go of it and remember to be thankful.

"We are not in control," he said.

The Rev. Dr. Kyle Hite of First Presbyterian Church said he understands that people sometimes pray for selfish reasons.

"People use prayer to ask for stuff," he said. "They make a to-do list for God."

But, Hite offers an alternative to what could be deemed as selfish.

"Prayer is for communion with God," he said. "It is a relation with God. Thanksgiving is part of the intercession with God. You have to know what to ask for, and be prepared."

Hite said he realizes people get frustrated, but that silent prayer also is an option as long as you are listening for God in your life. The many methods of prayer can often lead to confusion.

Nathan Gragg, pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, said via email prayer is a mysterious thing.

"I've heard another pastor I know say several times, 'I don't understand prayer. But I still do it'," Gragg said. "There's some wisdom there, I think. To fully understand prayer we would have to fully understand God.... We pray because God invites us to, and Jesus taught us to. Prayer is a relationship practice between us and God. It's not transactional, not about getting what we want."

Gragg said he realizes some people are not happy with the results of praying and knows people are not sure why God does not give them everything they want.

"It's probably because we would be miserable," he said. "Still, even while our prayers for peace, healing, and justice seem to go unanswered sometimes, I think we can trust that those prayers are being received by God and that they make a difference even in ways we cannot see."

Still, others believe prayer is unnecessary when things are going well.

"I think we are inclined to give ourselves and others credit for the blessings of our lives, steeped as we are in a culture of individualism and entitlement," Nicholas Beasley, pastor at Greenwood's Church of the Resurrection, said in an email. "We take credit for God's goodness to us."

However, Beasley said he also understands people turn to God in bad times.

"We turn to God in stress and disappointment because those are the times we feel powerless," he said. "This is one of the ways that sin has power over us... Disciplines of prayer, worship, and immersion in the Scriptures allow us to see ourselves, God, and the world in that way."

The Rev. James Louden III of Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church said he thinks prayer is a communication line to God, but not everyone is ready.

"You want it, but you're not prepared," he said. "You're not ready to receive it."

Louden said he knows people become impatient, but he reminds people to slow down.

"God has time," he said.