Part 3 in a series on the nature of prayer. Check out the introductory post What Is Prayer? for more background, or go here to see all of the posts in this series so far.
A few weeks back I asked my facebook friends and this blog’s readers to share their take on prayer. Do they pray? How often? If not, why not? What do pray for? What do they think the point of prayer is? I also cruised around WordPress for other blog posts about prayer, to see what others outside the NGYN network had to say.
What I found through my totally unscientific study confirmed what I already held to be true: prayer is different for everybody. In the responses I got and the blogs I read, I heard of people praying for daily strength; to get them through tough times; out of thankfulness, obligation, and fear; for peace, forgiveness, courage, and even retribution; and to a God that I inferred them to regard as caring, strong, angry, loving, gentle, steady, attentive, and whimsical. In other words, people’s prayers are as diverse as they are. And while some of what I read I considered way off the mark, I have no problem accepting that God probably delights in the varied nature of our prayers. He’s the one who created us all to be so different, after all.
The Bible gives us guidelines for prayer, even very specific ones such as in “the Lord’s prayer” in the sixth chapter of the book of Matthew. There, Jesus lays out prayer about as plainly as it could be done.Throughout God’s word, though, we also see many of God’s chosen people talking to God in their own distinct ways. Hannah prayed silently, weeping (1 Samuel 1); Hezekiah prayed in the temple (Isaiah 37); Paul prayed with groups of people (Acts 20); Jesus prayed on a mountainside (Luke 6); and the book of Psalms contains dozens of prayers by David that were composed as songs and set to music.
My point is this: prayer is a means of communicating with God, and there are thus as many different ways to pray as there are to tell someone you love them.
Prayer should not be a ritual. It should be a dynamic and unique experience. It will be colored by context: your prayers will inherently be as unique as your accent, voice, and language. Most of all, prayer should be authentic.
I used to hate praying out loud in front of other people. April and I used to attend a church where the pastor would call on people in the congregation to close out every service. My palms got sweaty every Sunday, and my heart would speed up out of fear that I’d be the one he called on. It took me awhile to figure out why: that I was intimidated by all the other folks I’d heard pray eloquently. I thought they could somehow pray better than me. Since then, though, I’ve gotten more comfortable in my own skin, and I realize that my prayers – as stumbly and rambling as they can be some of the time – are as sweet to God’s ears as those of David’s recorded in the book of Psalms. As long as they’re from the heart, that is.
I’m thankful to have a creative God, who accepts and even encourages our differences.
Let’s hear from you: How do you pray? Loudly? Quietly? Alone? With others? In what language? Do you even use words? In what context to you find that its easiest to talk openly with God?