Prayer can mean different things to different people. At various times I have been taught I must pray for things in a certain order; or I need to use special language when I pray. As a child, I was taught always to pray to the Father rather than to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, because this is how Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father, hallowed be Thy name…”, and when He prayed, it was always to the Father. That is good enough for me. Sometimes prayer seems to have become more of a ritual than honest communication. We sometimes invoke His presence at a meeting, or give thanks for our food without being purposeful; just mumbling a formula without actually thinking about what we are saying. We forget that we are addressing a real Being who is able to respond. I don’t think this is how it is supposed to be.
If I am honest I have to confess that I am never comfortable praying out loud in public because I find it almost impossible to speak without mental regard to the others who are listening. I become self-conscious and want to sound graceful and articulate. That is not prayer; that is showing off. There is the story of the little girl who was giving thanks at the table. When urged by her mother to speak up so that she could be heard better, she responded, “It’s O.K. Mommy. I wasn’t speaking to you ~ I was speaking to God, and He heard me just fine.” That is the right attitude.
However, aside from intercessional prayer, sometimes I find I am internally dragging my feet when faced with the prospect of taking a specific time and setting it aside for prayer. Since I love Him, and feel comforted by His presence, why don’t I want to pray more? There are times when I really want to pray, because I may be anxious and fearful and I need to talk with Him about it and find calm and comfort. I pray constantly in short bursts throughout the day ~ those little arrow prayers of thanksgiving or intercession. That kind of prayer is not a problem. It is when I have nothing specific to ask, and just praise and worship to give that I find I begin to hesitate. This raises the question of why I would ever fail to have much to say to Him. If I am reluctant to pray, just to have a conversation with God and let Him know I love Him, I have to question if something is wrong in my relationship with Him. In our earthly relationships, we can’t wait to be with those we love. If I truly believe that prayer is a dialogue between loving Parent and child, between intimates, why is prayer often so hard?
I once asked a minister friend why I didn’t want to pray more, since I love God, and, and He said, “We would be burned up by the holiness and intensity of the glory of God if we stayed in His presence every hour of every day. We can only, in our finite and very human selves, stand to be in that kind of Presence from time to time.” I thought about that for a long time… but I don’t think it fully answers the question. I pray to the Father in the name of Jesus, and because of Christ’s work at Calvary the Holy Lord God Almighty has granted me the privilege to call Him Abba, or Father. That name promises intimacy and solace and love. In that capacity He is not only an austere holy Presence Who holds out judgment and condemnation. Because of Christ I am His beloved child, and in prayer He offers me His loving self, not just the display of His infinite righteous majesty. There is no need for me to be afraid. Prayer is meant to be an intimate dialogue, and I need to give Him time to speak to me, as well as my speaking to Him.
In my private prayer times, I sometimes find I am falling back on clichés which I have heard repeated ad infinitum ever since I first became a Christian. There are times when I suddenly realize that I am saying what I think I ought to be saying as much as having a genuine conversation with my Father. When I draw back from prayer, I must ask myself if it is because I am sensing that He wants something from me which I am unwilling to give Him. Am I afraid to give Him access to my thoughts and feelings because I am afraid He is going to ask me to go where I am afraid to go? Am I afraid of what the light of His holiness may reveal when it illuminates the dark corners of my soul? Sometimes my reluctance to pray may be because I am ashamed of some of my thoughts, and don’t really want to voice them to God, because then my unkindness and cynicism and anger will be uncovered.
Then I remember the Psalms in which David and the other Psalmists didn’t limit their prayers and songs to a nice group of acceptable phrases and feelings. Instead they opened their hearts and let it all pour out. There was no hiding of feelings considered too raw for God’s ears. They trusted Him to be interested in everything they had to say, and to respond appropriately, even if to rebuke them and re-focus their thoughts to His way. All of this has helped me realize that I can be much more honest in my prayers. I don’t need to feel hesitant to voice my innermost thoughts, especially my negative and most un-Christian feelings. I don’t have to deny them and try to hide them even from myself because they are inappropriate.
After all, God already knows all these things about me. There is no way to hide the parts of me which make me ashamed. It’s all right there ~ right out in the open before Him. Although He already knows all about them, He wants me to see these things in myself and acknowledge them so that we can deal with them. This means I can feel free to go to God and confess everything to Him; all the unkind, ungenerous, petty little thoughts: the fear of betrayal, the resistance to correction, the feelings of pride or self-righteousness. Honesty keeps me humble; my sin is exposed. I can tell out all these ugly things which I have been trying to hide from Him and from myself and ask His forgiveness and His help in dealing with them, and know that He has heard me and will answer my prayer. He often responds by reminding me of my blessings and calling to mind scripture which shows me a better way to approach the situation.
More than anything else in my relationship with God I want to be honest and authentic ~ to see myself through His eyes and speak to the truth. Prayer is the area of the Christian life where we are closest to God, in actual dialogue with Him, and able to hear His voice through the recollection of scripture which He has burned into our hearts. This is one of the reasons we need to read and study our Bibles, so that those scriptures we need to remember will already be available to us in our memory. He will call up the relevant truth for us so that we can know His thoughts on the subject. Prayer is where I am at my most vulnerable to hear Him. Prayer has to be more than just a monologue; it is the closest thing to direct communication to which we can come. The price that was paid at Calvary to enable me access into the Holy of Holies was too high for me to take it for granted.
It all comes down, once again, to a matter of trust. Do I really trust Him with all of me ~ even the ugly bits? Then I should be able to be willing to expose every thought in my mind, every doubt, every question and still believe that His response will be just and kind and appropriate. How many times, dear Father, has the answer to my every question been the same: trust and obey? Thank You for Your infinite patience and Your willingness to help me learn in spite of myself.