I want to get better at prayer.
Yes, pastors struggle with prayer too.
When I’m with people, in a group or individually, for some reason prayer seems a little easier to me. I usually begin by thanking God for bringing us together for whatever reason we have gathered. I try to lift up things we’ve discussed and concerns that we share in common. I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength for us all. When I’m with my kids and we pray at bedtime there is a certain rhythm to the way we pray for others after we thank God for the day – lifting up those who are hungry, sick, sad, tired, or outside. Praying for these nameless people is intentional. When we pray for those other than ourselves (though we do pray about our own struggles too) – this outward focus impacts the way we think about God, themselves and others. I don’t know if these emphases are a natural expression of who I am, if it is what I picked up on all those years working at camp in various capacities, something I picked up in seminary, or if it is the practice of doing it over and over again throughout my years as a pastor and as a dad. But I do feel comfortable, genuine and edified when I pray with others, for others.
It’s when I’m alone and praying that I have a hard time, although not for lack of things to say. Sometimes I pray through the church’s prayer list. Sometimes I read the prayer of the day for the coming Sunday. I have a prayer-book with loads of prayers in them, but I struggle praying in someone else’s voice. I do like reading hymns. I pray them often. In hymns there is often a message and an image that lets my mind wander and I’ve often thought of that as a type of prayer. On long walks or runs as I get lost in my thoughts and believe that is prayer too. Sometimes just sitting and taking in outside noises is prayer. But I like words. I like to think about them as I read, hear or speak them. I’m often amazed at other people’s prayers as I am with them and the strength and trust behind them. I feel the power behind it when people say, “I am praying for you.” I hope people feel the same power when I pray for them.
There is a popular saying that says, “Prayer changes things.” My aunt and my grandmother used to have that phrase hanging in prominent places in their respective homes. I used to dwell on that phrase. What does it mean to say it, think it, believe it, and/or even pray it? Who is changing – is it we who pray, or the One who listens? Is it a process change or an outcome change? Does it change God? Us? The ones we pray for?
The only conclusion I have drawn over the years is to think, “Yes” to all those questions. In answering, “Yes,” prayer seems very powerful.
I have a friend who just returned from a prayer retreat. It was a silent prayer retreat. It was a weekend long prayer retreat. I am enough of an introvert to say it sounds very appealing to take a whole weekend to pray like a hermit monk. I am enough of an extrovert to think it sounds pretty awful. My friend is an even bigger extrovert than my wife (which is saying something!) so I am waiting to hear from him how it went, and how he made it through the weekend without talking. Truth be told, I prayed for him a lot this weekend. 🙂
My friend is a very faithful person – both in his loyalties to his family and friends and his relationship with God and the church. His family has been through some tough challenges over the last few years. He recently received a diagnosis none of us want to hear. Yet before he left for this retreat he told me he would be praying for Tammie and her sister Heidi, and asked me what specific things he could pray for – for me. Prayer is powerful stuff – it is out of our brokenness that we turn to our God as we lift our prayers as incense – in praise and thanksgiving, in despair and need, for ourselves and for others in Jesus name.
I’m still learning about prayer. Maybe you are too. I’d like to hear what prayer practices you use – how you pray – and what you find meaningful in it. In the meantime, I pray for you. I pray in thankfulness for you and the many gifts God has given you to share. I pray for your struggles and the burdens that you carry and that they may indeed feel lighter. I pray for wisdom and guidance and opportunities to emerge that we cannot notice until we are given the vision to see. I pray God give us that vision. I pray that the evil in each of our lives be thwarted and that God remind us always of his love, presence and forgiveness. And I pray for those who are hungry, sick, sad, tired, or outside – because they could always use our prayers too.
“I call upon you, O Lord; come quickly to me; give ear to my voice when I call to you. Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not turn my heart to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with those who work iniquity; do not let me eat of their delicacies. Let the righteous strike me; let the faithful correct me. Never let the oil of the wicked anoint my head, for my prayer is continually against their wicked deeds.” (Psalm 141:1-5)