Perhaps, more often, we should just listen, be still,
Receiving God’s guidance, expecting to be blessed
Accepting that God knows our needs and is eager to fulfil.
Yet when we do speak, God heeds even the simplest request –
Each childlike prayer is heard, for the prayer warrior’s skill
Rests in honest everyday words, not just our Sunday best.
Prayer is a universal. Even people who wouldn’t call themselves religious find themselves praying at times. Yet very often churchgoers will tell you how difficult they find it to pray.
Some people are blessed with a natural prayer ministry. They seem to find it easy to think of things to pray about, to make time for God no matter how busy their day, to find the words to say, to stop their mind from straying, to pray with and over other people, and even to lead prayers in church.
Most people find some or all of these things difficult, even impossible. I wouldn’t like to give any recommendations about how to pray because I don’t have a natural facility for prayer. I do what I can, but prayer rarely comes easily or spontaneously.
One problem for many people is that they hear the minister saying long, complicated prayers grounded in theology. Personal, private prayer doesn’t have to be like that; indeed, perhaps it shouldn’t be. Prayer is easier if we think of it as conversation with God. It needn’t be long or elegant, but it can be honest and direct. Sometimes it might even be silent.
Even the disciples found prayer difficult, and perhaps they suspected they were doing it wrong. In the end, they asked Jesus how to pray. Perhaps they expected him to provide a formula for complex theological intercessions: instead, he gave them a simple family prayer which distilled the essence of the Kingdom (Matthew 6:5-15).
Sometimes, carefully honed intercessory prayers are appropriate, but too often we fall into the trap of thinking our prayers need to be long and complicated. Like anything, prayer improves with practice. It’s something which churches should do more of. It’s something in which all Christians should participate.
We should expect prayer to work. We should actively recall when prayers have been answered, and reflect on how they have been answered. From my own experience, I would say prayer has often been answered by gradually revealing to me that my initial requests were misconceived: there was a wiser outcome for which I should have been praying from the outset. Once I end up praying for the right thing, answers start to happen. Reflecting on answered prayer and changed attitudes will help us to pray more expectantly in the future.
In our church, we are fortunate to have people with a gifting for prayer. They have an easy, natural and implicitly trusting way of speaking to God. This acrostic was inspired by them.
(Prayer appears on my New Testament: Gospels page).