Truthfully, I have not had many experiences praying like that. In fact I would say that most of the time prayer is a routine more than it is an experience, the whole “pray without ceasing” bit (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I pray in the morning, often alone – thinking about those on my list and often reading through prescribed prayers for the day. Sometimes I really dwell on the words and think about them. Other times they are rote or hollow and are skimmed, as I start to formulate my own words. It is hard to think that praying somehow evokes the Spirit’s power, or bends the Father’s ear, or calls upon the ongoing presence of Christ, but that is exactly what prayer is and does, even when we pray half-heartedly. Paul comments, “The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Amazing. To evoke the Spirit, to feel the Spirit – is not done out of the strength or sincerity of our prayers, it comes by our weakness, when we don’t have the words or heart for it. In other words, prayer counts when we need it most: when we are most concerned for others and not ourselves; when we realize we are not in control; that we never are in control. Prayer is a gift to us for that reason, not to show us our place, but how gracious God is to us. It is the reason why “prayer changes things” as the popular saying goes.
God is not our errand boy. Yet if we listed many of our prayers, we treat God just like that, “Do this for me, or what I really want is…” We forget to pray when things are going well, or when we don’t “need” anything. We like to make deals, “God, if you do this for me, then I’ll…” and so on. Sorry. I don’t believe God works like that – fetching this or that for us whenever we beckon. Jesus does compel us to “ask, seek, knock” (Matthew 7:7), Why not call on God when we need an answer? God is bigger than that. God answers every prayer, not just the ones when we want something. To pray as if we believed it means not to treat God like an errand boy, but as the one in charge, of the universe, of the world, of your life. Ultimately it is praying as Jesus did in the garden, “not what I want, but what you want” (Matthew 26:39).
How do we pray?
Jesus’ disciples asked that question and he taught them what we call the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:7-14; Luke 11:1-4). I suspect many of us know that one by heart, and can roll through it rather quickly, but rarely do we think about the words. When we pray with the kids at home we use this format as a template for our prayers. They might be different, but they typically come out the same.
We thank God for the day. We thank God for our family, friends, Mr. Peeps (our guinea
pig), and anyone we might have seen, played with or stayed with us recently. We pray for anyone scared, sick, tired or hungry. We name names – people from church or others we know that need some extra help. The kids recently added, “and for everybody that we know or don’t know.” This prayer always makes me smile. Not only for how far-reaching it is, but as a throwback. When my sister was a kid she always ended her prayers, “and
for everybody else. Amen.” When my wife is praying with the kids she typically says “and
forgive us for all our sins, help us be better parents, and better listeners.” I usually say, “and remind us that you love us.” We close by praying for good dreams.
It has been fun to watch our kids not only listen to us pray with them but formulate prayers on their own. They use the above format. I’ve been amazed at how “others” oriented their prayers are. When others are praying for a new bike, they are concerned for other people’s feeling and well-being. There is an old saying that “as we pray, so we believe.” Even with sighs too deep for words, there is a power in believing that our prayers make a difference, and indeed they change us often to help make it.
When Jesus taught us what we call “the Lord’s Prayer” I don’t believe he had in mind a rote prayer that we could rattle off without thinking about it, but probably more the format – addressing God, the world, daily needs, forgiveness, deliverance, and giving God glory. That is after all how the Lord’s Prayer is structured. That is I think, how God wants us to structure our lives.
Pray well. Sleep tight. Have sweet dreams.
Remember no matter what you say, God is listening; even in the silence. The Spirit will tuck you in…Cool.
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
How do you pray?
When is it most meaningful?
How might prayer “change things” in and through you?