Many of the churches I attended when I was growing up were liturgical churches, and a lot of the prayers we prayed were recited or memorized. Most of these were well written, but since we were reading it in unison or reciting it, it kind of lost something, and I cannot remember any meaningful experience with it.
When I came to faith in Christ, from day one it was emphasized by all my newfound brothers and sisters that we all needed to pray personally and pray together. But the question no one wanted to ask, is what do I say, how do I say it? I figured that you talk to God the way you would talk to anyone, and I got that right, but I will get back to that in a minute.
I went to a prayer meeting, and we divided up in small groups to pray over the things that people had shared and the church prayer list. Praying for missionaries was a high priority, and I was kind of excited about it. Turned out I was in a room of spiritual giants, men who had been in ministry and walked with God longer than I had been alive. So I led out in prayer, and covered about a dozen of the things on the list, and thought I had done pretty well. But then the giants talked. Their prayers would have done William Shakespeare or King James I proud. But it wasn’t so much that I noticed. When they prayed, all around the circle, hmmm….yes….amen…thank you Jesus….yes Lord….hmmm. And no one did that when I prayed. I struggled to pray in front of others for a long time.
The church in America has been through all kinds of fads and curricula when it comes to prayer.
The one that had me dumbfounded was people who critiqued each others’ prayer. I think everyone forgot that we are talking to God when we pray and He understands everything. There was even a movement for some time where people said they had to be very specific what they asked God. Like He is going to miss something??
One thing that was more encouraging to me than anything else was learning from the scripture that none of us really ever knows exactly how to pray!
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Whenever we come to God sincerely, we say what we want to say, in whatever language we speak, and the Spirit of God takes it from there. God understands us just fine.
What the scripture does say is we should pray, that is the real challenge is just getting there. “With all prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18).