Place yourself in the midst of those who pray to God with confidence. Keep company with the faithful and let them help you bring your needs to God. Spend time with reverent pray-ers and those who converse in vocabularies of heaven and languages of God. Treasure their words in your heart and learn from them, but know this: your own unanswered prayer and the days when you had nothing to say, none of this made you less of a person of prayer.
There will always be others who seem to live their days in a bright harmony of miracles and answered prayers. In the sharp eye of your mind you see them through the gloom of the forest trees, beyond the places where the canopy cuts out the light. They pray like those sitting on tree stumps, in a small clearing, bathed in sunshine and flowers. The woodland creatures feed from their hand and all is well. You watch from the shadows, moving nearer one step at a time and when they are disturbed by a twig snapping under your foot, you move back quickly into the thick of the forest where shadows play tricks with your sight and it’s difficult to see the (proverbial) woods for the trees.
Prayer is not a virtuoso art reserved for the super talented, educated or the well trained. You do not need a seminary degree to pray. You do not need prayer journals, workshops or big name preachers to show you the way. Prayer is not the sole territory of those blessed with a trusting disposition and childlike heart. It is not just for those who seem to have everything sewn up, seam allowances measured, no frayed edges or ugly tucks. In scripture the whole of creation waits in eager expectation for the coming of God, trees clap their hands, springs flow in the desert and barren plants burst into bloom. Nothing is left untouched. When God comes he comes for us all and we all pray. Prayer is for all people to give and receive, to mutter, shout, sing or bawl. Prayer is the ultimate redistribution of power, offensively inclusive, a nonsense of first-will-be-last madness set to turn the current world order inside out. For if there is a God, he is God of us all and all of us can know him well. If there is a God, he loves us equally amidst the messy realities of our tangled personalities and chequered pasts, our disparate views, beliefs and dispostions. He has not rendered one person’s prayers more lovely than those of the next.
These are a few of the un-truths that keep us from praying well and keep us from praying at all.
A true prayer is religious – Did you ever think that a true prayer needed to be liturgical, scriptural or conform to some real or imagined standard of spirituality? Nothing deters people more from pursuing access to Him in prayer. Jesus was not impressed by the hypocrites who used their words to intimidate and exclude others from the everyday holiness of prayer. This is the time to take Jesus at his word whether you are a fundamentalist or not. Make your prayer by saying a thing as it is, just as the authentic you would have it said, in any other forum of life. In doubt or confidence, clarity or confusion, out of a place of knowing for certain or out of place of knowing nothing at all, let your own yes be yes and your own no be no. Simply so. Thank him that he has heard you and never let anyone rob you of your God given right to freely come, whoever you are and wherever you have been. Come as you are, simply come.
True prayer is long – nothing stops us praying more than the voice that tells us a hastily grabbed prayer is an insult to God. Some of us have failed to pray when we might have because we thought our oh-so-brief prayer was not a prayer at all. I have come to believe that God loves the hastily made prayer of the trusting heart, a minute at the steering wheel before you pull off the drive, a minute at the sink when you ran upstairs to the bathroom in the midst of a child busy day, a minute of delight in God as the pasta comes to the boil or a cry for help on a failing day when the call centre left you on hold and the muzak is hurting your ears.
True prayer feels good – it may be that when you were new to faith and first took the step of approaching God in prayer it was accompanied by a sense that all was well with the world. It may have been the case that in the lush days of new prayer relationship there were requests made and answers given, the voice of God was heard and his healing hand brought health to failing bodies and minds. If this is the case you may have been shocked to find that later prayer was not accompanied with this old assurance and you questioned the validity of all that had gone before. Whole seasons of prayer may be dry and genuinely hard. Some will survive these time through daily discipline and some through naked grace. Such naked grace helps all who can not pray and those who lose the joy of prayer. It offers the assurance that he loves you whether you pray or not and ultimately sustains you whilst you search for treasures in darker nights of prayer.
A whole hurting creation is standing on tip toes waiting for the sons of God to be revealed. We can not afford to be picky about who we let pray or legislate rules and procedures for how it should be done. The body of Christ needs the prayers of all the people; the happy pray-ers rubbing shoulders with those who mourn, the loud beseeching pray-ers silenced a moment to hear the whispers of uncertain souls, those who called meetings to pray for governments and nations joining ranks with the mums who nobody sees praying over their sleeping children at night. In the great cathedrals the hours of the day are punctuated with the orders of prayer, whilst at home and at work our hearts and minds are persuaded to God in a bias that comes as easy as breath. For if we are to pray without ceasing we will not achieve it alone. We will pray with the weakest and strongest alike. To pray without ceasing requires all of us, more of the time, together inclining our hearts to God.