I am not an expert at prayer, by any strech of the imagination. In fact I never used to pray. So that makes this post, sort of hard, to write for me. I don’t want to tel you how you should pray, because prayer is deeply personal. But from my own experience, I know how helpful other perspectives can be. And maybe you need a new way to look at prayer, or your prayer-life has not been what you want it to be. So in this post I’ll take you through my thoughts and perspective on prayer, in the hope that you may be helped by it.
Like I said before, I never used to pray. Only, maybe, when I was in a really tough situation, I would silently cry out ‘God, help me’. But I never really believed there was a God to call out to, or, that if there was that He would listen to little old me. But 18 months ago I found out that there is! A God who listens to my prayers, I mean. Now, I didn’t know if there was a correct way to pray at the time, but I believed that if God really did listen, and if He really did love us as much as they told me in Church, than perhaps it didn’t matter how I prayed.
Now, if you meet anybody who knows me well, the first thing they will tell you is how much I worry. I think about so many things and most of them will never happen. Or they may have already happened and I cannot change them. My mind constantly goes of into many different dark paths of could’ves, should’ves and would’ves. I’m sure many people can relate.
I couldn’t tell you when I started, but one of the first prayer habits I started with was simple, but so so helpful. If I became aware that I was worrying I would try to direct the worries toward God. The simple act of directing your thoughts is amazing. Aiming them at someone, for me, had the effect that I couldn’t go down a rabbit hole of dark spirals and disasters.
When I look back now, my worries often are incoherent; one situation isn’t related to what I thought. Aiming my thoughts at God meant I had to make my thoughts understandable. Like in a normal conversation, the other person has to be able to follow what you’re ‘saying’. So this in and of itself, gives me some peace of mind, because my mind doesn’t go as easily into the darkness.
Thank You, Sorry, Please
At the moment I’m involved in the Alpha Course, where I am part of the team that leads the discussions. We are watching a film series about the basics of Christian faith, and then discussing the topic afterwards. This week the topic was prayer. And even though this is not a new topic for me, the film did give me two helpful mantra’s: Thank You, Sorry, Please is one; and the other one is Keep it simple, keep it honest, and keep it going. I’ll explain them both.
This is more of an order to pray in and things to consider when praying. I found this very helpful when I followed the Alpha course my self and I stick to this format quite often.
When I have a request to make, I try to use this format diligently, because I would feel almost selfish if I just made a request out of the blue. Starting with saying Thank You to God for things He has already done for me does two things. On the one hand it empasises Gods ability to actually change things and on the other hand it puts my request at hand into perspective. Often I find that by starting to thank and praise God for His past blessings my request is not even necessary anymore. Not that I feel guilty for asking and then don’t anymore. It’s more that showing gratitude actually makes me feel more content with what I already have.
Saying sorry for me has always been the harder part of this format. It might be pride or some other form of it, but I rarely believe I have done anyhing to warant forgiveness. Not an easy thing to admit to, but when I follow this format I struggle to find something to say sorry for that I have done that day (or in recent times). I know I’m not perfect, and probably I look at my actions with a too worldly view, thinking “That wasn’t so bad, compared to what others do” and not recognizing the mistakes I make.
Having just written that, I have sent up a prayer: Dear Lord, Thank You for your ever present love in my life. Thank You that You have allowed me to grow so much in the past year or so. I have grown, by Your guidence, love, wisdom and light. I am sorry I don’t always see the mistakes I make, and how I sometimes do sin. I am sorry I have comformed to the world. Lord I ask that You help me become aware of my flaws, and faults so that I can honestly confess them and appologize for them. So that I can come humbly into your presence. In Jesus’ name Amen.
Now saying please has not been easy for me either. I have a serious sence of authority; not my own, but of others having authority over me. This often translates in my working life into me behaving meekly and saying yes to almost all request. (I often pray that God would give me more confidence) But with prayer and God this character trait of mine comes out to play big time. Because God has a plan for me and my life, and for that of others. So my mind goes into this frenzy; “What if what I am asking for is not what God wants for me?” “Is it then even worth asking?” The same goes for when I sporadically pray for other people. “What if that house my friend want is not for her?” “What if her relationship with her boyfriend is not meant to be mended?” “What if God has other plans for her?” Having these thoughts often still leave me conflicted.
My solution to these thoughts has been to add a sentence or thought to th request. Something along the lines of “If this is according to your plan God, grant me (or him/her/them) ______. And if it does not fit into Your plan God, give me (or him/her/them) the strength to hope for the better future You have promised.”
Keep it simple, keep it honest, keep it going
This is more of a mantra than a format. A mantra that sounds easier said than done I can tel from experience. Now, I am no rockstar at keeping my prayers simple, because, I have had a lot of complicated things that I needed God’s help with. And what I wrote earlier, about being conflicted about God’s plan and praying for something, well my sollution just complicates prayer. So I can’t really give you tips or advice on keeping prayers simple.
But I could write a book about keeping them honest. And I think that is partly why I have trouble keeping them simple. My thoughts just are complicated, and I wouldn’t be honest if I made them less complicated. Keeping prayers honest can take many different forms. Looking at the Bible; the Psalms were actually the old prayer book of the ancient Israelites. And the Psalms run the full spectrum of our emotions, from joy and praise, to fear, anger and doubt. David, who wrote many of the Psalms, was never afraid to voice his true emotions to God. He asks that his enemies be killed or wounded, he exhalts the Lord, and praises him, but also asks why the Lord has forsaken him.
The assumption people, myself included, often make is that since God already knows what happened and knows how I feel, I don’t need to tell Him that. And on some level you’re right. You don’t have to make Him aware of what is going on or how you feel; He indeed already knows. But now consider, that telling Him how you feel might not be for His benefit, but for your own. Relating your honest emotions to a God who loves you, who would never judge you or be mad at you; that can be healing in and of itself.
(Tim Mackie explains this much better in his sermon on praying through the pain.)
Keeping it going sort of speaks for itself. It means to pray continuously, be persistent. If you look at prayer as communication within a relationship the picture becomes very clear for me. When somebody stops talking to me, I will usually also stop talking to them. Because both communication and relationships are two-way streets. The same goes for praying to God and being in a relationship with Him.
Seeing it as communication also makes it a lot easier to pray, wherever and whenever. Because God is always with you, His Spirit lives inside you. I genually pray anywhere. If I find my self worrying about something, I’ll start to pray right then and there. Because if I have time to worry; I have time to pray. There are specific moments I try to pray regularly, often in the morning on my commute to work; to ask God to prepare me and remind me of His love, and that that is more important than what my colleagues may think of me. And usually at night, in bed, to process the day and thank Him for getting me through it.