Am I Doing This Right? Prayer
I was reminded this week that one of the reasons why some people find themselves praying little is because they’ve never been taught how. They’ve observed ministers praying; they’ve said prayers for dinner and bedtime, but they feel like novices. I’m going to try to blog through this weighty topic as both an encouragement to those who might read and a renewed challenge to myself. As our church prepares for a focused season of prayer this November, my prayer is that these blog posts would spur us on to actually praying.
Richard Foster, in Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, conveys the tension we face.
“We today yearn for prayer and hide from prayer. We are attracted to it and repelled by it. We believe prayer is something we should do, even something we want to do, but it seems like a chasm stands between us and actually praying.”
This statement reflects perfectly our everyday experience with prayer. There are many people who hesitate to pray because of this very reality. We want to pray, and yet we find ourselves not praying more often than we’d like to admit. We tell others we will pray for them and then fail to do it. One of the reasons we miss out on prayer is because we tend to think that we have to get our lives straight, or figure out how to pray, or have the right motives in our prayers, or pray like we’ve heard a pastor pray, before we pray. And like the rest of life, procrastination is one of the devil’s most useful tools. If he can prevent us from beginning, then he has won the battle before it starts.
Thomas Merton wrote,
“One cannot begin to face the real difficulties of the life of prayer and meditation unless one is first perfectly content to be a beginner and really experience himself as one who knows little or nothing and has a desperate need to learn the bare rudiments.”
We all have to begin somewhere. Prayer takes practice. You may be thinking about the words of Jesus about praying with too many words while our heavenly Father already knows our thoughts. The point of practicing is not to get good at saying so many flowery words but to learn how to commune with and communicate with God. Our chorale prof in college reminded us that we play like we practice; not giving our all in learning songs and parts during practice would lead to bad performances. In prayer, we can establish either good or bad habits. Practicing bad habits over and over is sad to think about: won’t God just accept whatever I say, regardless of whether or not I “get it right”?
Again, “getting it right” is not the point.
Philip Yancey says it well in his book simply titled, Prayer.
“Sometimes I wonder if the words I use are the least important part of prayer. Who am I? And who is God? If I can answer those two questions, the words I pray recede. Prayer invites me to lower defenses and present the self that no other person fully knows to a God who already knows.”
Yancey makes an important point. Prayer, because of the relational focus, has to do with so much more than getting the right words out or sounding right or not stuttering because you’re not sure what to say next. Do you think God really cares about the words as much as He cares about the heart?
I don’t. Not at the start. Now, in time, the words begin to matter. We begin to understand that there are some ways of praying that don’t make sense, and other ways that communicate in the best way possible. For now, know that God accepts us just as we are, as a dad understands his toddler’s choppy English. As you pray today, pray as the beginner you are.