Prayer is like the ocean. You know about it, but you don’t.
Just because you can swim doesn’t mean you’re an expert on the mind-blowing life it contains. Cures, sunken treasure, worlds yet-undiscovered.
But take heart: You can swim for a reason!
Maybe you’re like me. Your day starts fast, and ends tired. When do we squeeze in prayer, let alone let it breathe? Does it make a difference?
I had the idea for this blog last weekend when I saw a bumper sticker that said “Real Men Pray the Rosary.” Now I’m not Roman Catholic and so don’t say the rosary—but it was still awesome!
Somewhere within we know prayer is a channel for God. But we can be vague about how the machinery works. I picture those at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; but also those of us driving to work and trying to make sense of today. Like the highway this prayer “channel” is a two-way street. When we open our email the send and receive function is usually the same click. Sure we may talk a lot, but do we receive, listen? Do we pause long enough to open our ears?
As a minister I think that closing our eyes to pray is the only thing that really opens our eyes. So in my experience here are a few of the barriers to deeper prayer:
Does God care?
Good question. Yes. Speaking to elders in the early church, Peter writes “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5: 7). Also, if he didn’t care, Jesus wouldn’t have died for you. A parent cares. So does a Parent. I like how it’s put in Psalm 145: “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Prayer teacher Andrew Murray says, “The Father listens in all the compassion with which a father listens to a weak or sickly child, in all the joy with which he hears a stammering child, in all the gentle patience with which he tolerates a thoughtless child.”
Does it make a difference?
Yes. Despite the distant not-really-concerned and do-what-makes-you-happy-god propped up by pop culture by rusty stilts, the God of the Bible (the “God of the Angel-Armies” as Eugene Peterson interprets) is a dynamic engaged “consuming fire” Saviour who wants to be engaged in your specific life. “God is not deaf, he listens and, moreover he acts,” writes titan thinker Karl Barth. “He does not act in the same way whether we pray or not. Prayer has an influence on the action, on the very existence, of God.” Woah.
I’m not good at it
You’re also not good at performing open heart surgery; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Like any discipline it takes work and practice. You have learn how to drive a car. So for prayer. I think God honours our trying and honesty.
I don’t have enough time
Neither do I. I also don’t have time to sing to my kids at night. Oh wait a second, yes I do. We make time for things that are vital. Quite often we’re busy because we’re lazy. Lazy people let others set their agendas and priorities. (Sorry if that’s hard to hear, and a bit over-simplified perhaps, but still usually true.) We have to work not to find time, but to make time.
All that said, here are a few things I’ve found helpful in praying deeper.
Know what it is
One way to think about prayer is intimate conversation with God. It’s not only talking, but listening. Beyond small talk. It’s usually between the lines that the talking really happens. Try to articulate the between-the-lines of your life.
God knows your heart; he made it. Be real. Don’t get caught up in fancy words. Don’t heap them up. Prayer reminds us that we are open-handed and in need. Thirsty. Parched. It restores our sense of order—that God is Provider.
Pray for God’s will
The contemplative nun Teresa of Avila once said to God: “Do not punish me by granting that which I wish or ask.” Sounds a bit harsh, and maybe it is. But the lesson surfaces that prayer is really about God’s will. If it’s not his will, I doubt he’ll grant you something. So prayer is also an act of personal change wherein our motives and dreams are drawn into our Maker’s.
God cares about every second of your day even if you think “he has more important things to worry about.” Really. What are your God-honouring dreams for your family members or work? Have you prayed for that recently? What are the painful places that pierce your heart?
Set it aside. If you’re new at all this, or struggling, make it 5 minutes alone. Schedule it. Or when you find a few extra minutes, close the door and your eyes. Instead of folding your hands, why not try opening them to remind yourself what you’re doing.
A few tips
- Having trouble? Why not try the PACT prayer: Praise him. Ask for Help. Confess your brokenness. Thank him for his blessing.
- Or use the Lord’s Prayer as an example. But say it slow. Say one line per breath or two, and then space out the lines every three or four breaths.
- Ask God to direct you, then sit in silence. Listen.
- Read a chapter of the Bible, and after every few lines, stop and pray based on what you think the text is saying to you.
- Still struggling, pray that God teach you to pray.
Prayer seems like the simplest thing; perhaps that’s why we underestimate it. But you will find that like anything else that you practice, soon you will see how God is interacting with you. And as your relationship with Jesus grows, the more powerful and effective your prayers will become.
I started by comparing prayer to an ocean. As you go deeper; you find you can start to breathe under water. In this case, practice doesn’t make perfect—but it flourishes faith. Soon water becomes air. That’s metamorphosis.
My last word today is an old Celtic prayer said as Christians splashed their faces with water at the start of each new day: “Let me awaken to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Amen.
I Matthew: I just read your blog on prayer. I had asked you about this before, and as you said just speak to Him from your heart. I have been trying but still find that I can not express what I am trying to say, or what is in my heart. THEN!!
I read Psalm 51 and lo and behold it grabbed me and said YES!!! This is what I feel and wanted to tell God. Thank you so much for your guidance in this matter.