I have a confession to make. I don’t think I’m all that great in the prayer department. If you and I took an unannounced look at what’s in my prayer closet, we’d probably find some clothes, shoes, a golf ball or two, and a TV remote- stuff that probably shouldn’t be there.
Prayer has always been a source of background guilt for me. Now don’t get me wrong. I spend time in prayer- a fair amount of time. But on occasion, in the back of my mind, I question my methods. Am I doing it right? Do I pray often enough? Long enough?
In the back of my mind, I question my methods. Am I doing it right? Do I pray often enough? Long enough?
On one hand, prayer is a multilayered, complex, mystical exercise. Yet on the other, it can be the simplest of words. It can be sacred and liturgical, or laid back and conversational. It can be formal or informal, quiet or loud, long or short.
And to make matters worse, there are volumes of writing and teaching about every detail you can think of. There are prayer methods, prayer books, and devotionals. We learn about prayer warriors who spend hours praying, and monks and nuns who spend their lives praying. We’re taught that if we don’t end our prayers with the words “In Jesus’ Name,” then maybe that prayer didn’t count or wasn’t heard.
- Let me offer you some practical, down to earth, very simplistic guidelines on prayer. Before I do, there are a couple of things you need to know. First, I’m no expert. My words are from my experiences and not from academia. And second, please don’t interpret my simplistic approach as a lack of appreciation for the importance and sacredness of prayer. Believe me, I get it.
OK, so if you’re struggling like me in the area of prayer, then here are some ideas.
- Do what feels natural. Praying is nothing more than expressing yourself and listening to God, and because we are all different, how you express yourself might be different for me. Every time I’ve tried to copy someone else’s method, I’ve struggled. Lots of people write that getting up early in the morning to pray is preferable. But if your mornings are full, or if you aren’t a morning person, then pray at another time.
- Use your own words. God doesn’t want to hear empty words said out of obligation. The essence of prayer is communication and spiritual communion between two people who love each other. Imagine your spouse or child sitting down beside you, reciting a speech by rote, then getting up and leaving! You might not feel eloquent, and you might not know exactly what to say. God understands all this, and it’s OK.
- Listen as much as you talk. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who constantly talks? That isn’t a conversation, it’s a soliloquy. I’m learning that the most important words spoken during prayer aren’t my words, but God’s words. If you can find a quiet place and start listening, you will hear God’s voice loud and clear. And that’s a cool thing.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. In Part II, I’ll talk about what to do if you want to sit down and have a conversation with God.
In the meantime, I would be interested in hearing what works and what doesn’t work for you. What personal obstacles to prayer do you face? If you could give someone a single piece of information about praying, what would it be?