The Art of Prayer
- Friday, May 03, 2013
Like most children, I learned how to pray at the dinner table. I would fold my hands, close my eyes, and furrow my brow with concentration as my father asked God to bless our food. I employed the same technique at bedtime, adding requests like “Keep my family safe” and “please bring back dinosaurs” when it seemed important. Once I became a teenager however, this style of prayer was no longer going to cut it. More often than not, I’d fall asleep halfway through my monologue, and even when I managed to stay awake I never felt like I was connecting with God at all.
So what is the right way to pray? Is there even such a thing as a right way? I’ll admit, I don’t really know. However, I do believe there are many ways to pray, and that prayer is different for every person. In the wake of National Day of Prayer, I would like to share a few ways I’ve learned how to pray.
Pray in Action
“So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.” – 1 Corinthians 14:15
I suppose it’s best if I start with the style of prayer I am most familiar with. I have never been good at sitting still during prayer. I am too easily distracted, and my mind tends to wander no matter how sincere my motives were when I began. So whenever I’m really looking to connect with God, I always go for a walk. I simply choose a direction and I start to pray.
I don’t know why walking helps. Maybe the activity focuses my thoughts or maybe a sense of direction gives me clarity, but personally, I believe it’s because prayer was meant to be natural. God made us to run, climb, swim, and dance, and I have no doubt he takes great joy in watching us do those things. In much the same way, we were also made to pray. If you are looking for a different way to connect with Christ, find something you do naturally and learn to pray through that.
Pray in Silence
"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." – Psalms 46:10
When I was a student at Taylor University, I would frequently go to the campus prayer chapel while doing devotions. Normally sitting still would have been a problem, but the Taylor chapel was different. The instant you passed through its doors the silence would envelop you like a cocoon. It gave the building a separate peace you couldn’t find anywhere else on campus, making it simple to focus on Christ and just listen. Since graduation, I’ve found silence harder to come by.
The modern world is filled with so many distractions: TV, internet, movies, mobile phones, iPods and iPads, and whatever new piece of technology just became popular. Even our homes have become filled with things designed to eat up our time and attention. People have forgotten what it feels like to be silent before the Lord. The next time you pray, find a place away from all those loud distractions and temptations.
Find a place that is silent, and just listen.
Pray in Anger
“While he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." – 1 Kings 19:4
Sometimes I think our relationship with Christ is hindered by passive prayer. The Bible says to humble ourselves before the Lord (James 4:10), but often times our humility leads to a sort of "prayer filter." We’re never truly honest with God about how we feel, and we remove all passion from our prayers for fear of somehow offending God. I can remember one time I was having a miserable week, and though I prayed frequently to God for strength, it was always in the polite, courteous tone one might use to ask the time of day.
Finally I just exploded. I shouted, I swore, I stomped up and down like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum. I didn’t care what God thought, I was tired of acting like everything was just fine when it was anything but. Once I’d finished my rampage, I felt as though a sort of shift had taken place in the conversation. It was as though God had said, "Finally, you’re being honest. Now we can get to work."
Don’t censor yourself with God, he already knows what’s in your heart. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to yell, yell until your throat is sore. God wants a relationship with us, and true relationships can only be built upon honesty.
Pray in Letters
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. – Philippians 4:23
There is a book called The Help that I believe everyone should read. Not only is it an engaging and well written story about civil rights in the South, but it also has many small lessons about God and prayer tucked away in its pages. For example, one of the main characters is an older woman by the name of Aibileen. Each night, before she lies down to sleep, Aibileen prays, but instead of speaking her prayers aloud, she writes them. She makes lists of the people in need, writing out hopes and blessings for them on a small pad of paper, then reflects on what she may be able to do to help ease their burdens.
The apostle Paul had a similar system. You may recall that he spent a lot of his time under house arrest, and he continued his ministry by writing letters to the fledgling Christians. The majority of these letters are filled with advice and instruction to the early Church, but they also contain prayers. Paul continuously wrote prayers into his letters for his fellow Christians to read and experience. They were tangible words to be read and re-read while their audience celebrated freedom in Jesus.
Perhaps writing isn’t for everybody, but if something is weighing on your heart try writing it out as a prayer. Let your small paper become your petition to God.
Pray in Partners
“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." – Matthew 18:20
It all started in a Mexican restaurant. I had met a friend for lunch, and as we talked the conversation began to turn more personal. We both ended up confessing to things we had been struggling with, along with some other spiritual frustrations and worries. When our plates were finally cleared away I got up to leave, but my friend stopped me.
"Do you think we could we just pray together really quickly?" he asked. It was something so simple, but as we prayed for one another in that dusty booth, I could feel Christ there with us. I know being a prayer partner is a difficult task, finding a time and place to meet is always hectic, but it’s worth it. When Christians are honest and transparent with one another, it creates an opening for God to work in our lives and the lives of others. After all, no man is an island, and it is the duty of the Church to lift each other up.
Learn to pray together as friends and partners in Christ, because where many are gathered, so is God.
*This Article First Published 5/3/2013
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