If you’ve been following along with the lectionary, you might be aware that a major theme of our recent gospel lessons has been prayer. It’s been a great opportunity to talk with our kids in the children’s message about the ways we pray and what happens when we pray. Far too often, we think of prayer as what we say to God. Far too often, prayer is described or used as a kind of wish list where we name all the ways we need God to do something for us. Neither of those two things are inherently wrong or bad, but they do limit what the gift of prayer might actually be.
Consider when there is a request for someone to lead the opening or closing prayer of a gathering you find yourself in. How often do you hold back from offering to lead it for fear of not having “the right words?” How often do you hold back because you just don’t have anything to pray about? Perhaps you have never experienced either of those moments, but I have heard from others who have.
Being nervous about prayer, especially public prayer, is natural and a very common occurrence. However, I want to take this time to invite you to think about your relationship with prayer a little bit more than you might usually. It helps to spend a little time understanding your definition of prayer and the expectations you have built around it. How much of that definition and those expectations were imposed on your experience of prayer by someone else or another external factor? How much is connected to your understanding of who God is, as well as your relationship with God; and, in the case of public prayer, your relationship with those around you? Spend as much time as you need to consider these things. Feel free to pull out a journal and jot down your thoughts and memories about your experience of prayer. This isn’t to mark anything as right or wrong, but just for you to better understand where your interaction with prayer is coming from.
Next time you find yourself in a position to pray, alone or with others, try the following steps:
- Pause. There is no need to rush head-on into a prayer that you have no sense of yet. Pause and…
- Breathe. Take at least one full breath in and out. Be present in this moment of prayer. There is no rush. This moment is a prayer in and of itself.
- Listen. Open yourself to hear how God is in this moment connecting you, this space, and anyone else sharing the prayer with you. What have you heard before this time of prayer? What have you felt? Where have you noticed God in your midst?
- Allow. Open your mouth and allow whatever rises up. Allow it to be spoken aloud in the space you inhabit or allow it space in your mind as a silent prayer. This is the gift of prayer that, no matter what rises up, it is allowed. God is with you.
- Listen (again). How is the room shifting? What response is rising up within you, or from someone else in the room? Might this response be from God?
- Allow enough. Allow what has been done and said to be enough. The length of a prayer doesn’t prove its worthiness or yours. God is with you. God knows what you meant. God knows what you haven’t put words to. God accepts you. God accepts it all. This prayer is enough.
When all else fails, listen. Spend time in silence and pay attention to how God fills the space. Or, listen to where you are – the flow of traffic, the music playing on the speaker, the candle flickering at your desk, your stomach gurgling. How is God speaking to you through the sounds of life?
Prayer is a gift of grace. No one earns prayer. Prayer is a practice. One person isn’t born more naturally talented at prayer than another. Nor does one person deserve more prayers than another. Prayer is a conduit of God’s love and grace for everybody. When we pray, we draw more closely to God, each other, and to all of God’s creation. We let go of our feeble grasp of control and allow God to be God, accepting all that is to come, and receiving all that God so freely gives us.
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4c-7)