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Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Secret to Perfect Prayer

When a doctoral student at Princeton asked, "What is there left in the world for original dissertation research?" Albert Einstein replied, "Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer." 
Quoted in Leadership Journal (Winter 1983)

Chances are you're similar to me and Sheila Walsh in that you have spent the majority of your life trying to figure out how to pray. As children we're taught to bow our hands, fold our hands together, and even kneel when we pray. Often children are taught form prayers such as, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep..." As adults we may hold others' hands and take turns praying, addressing God in any number of ways ("Father God...Dear Lord...etc.). "Think about it - how many times have we been asked topiary in public and, instead of talking with God using the manner and words we offer at home, we find our "spiritual" voices, religious vocabulary, and pious pose?" (Sheila Walsh, Get Off Your Knees And Pray) I've even heard some people start their prayers "Hey God." The traditionalist in me balks at such a casual approach. But is it really wrong? Is there a "right" way to pray?

I've had days where I sat in the sun, soaking in its warmth and praising God for the innumerable blessings in my life. Then there are the days when I couldn't stand and just cried out to God in a crumpled, sobbing heap on the floor. There are also all those normal, mundane days when I took 5-10 minutes in the morning or as I drove along in the car to just "say a quick prayer," in an attempt to ensure I check the box for "daily prayer." My prayer life has been inconsistent and selfish at best. But how do I fix that? What is the "right" way to pray?!

Will Rogers said, "The trouble with our praying is, we just do it as a means of last resort." Why is it that we only seem capable of sincere prayer when we're under pressure? I'm just as guilty as anyone else, although I've been trying to improve over the last few years. But I've stumbled at times, trying to deal with some of the typical questions, such as "if God's will is already pre-determined, what's the point of praying?" Sometimes I feel like I don't get answers, and it's discouraging to feel like God isn't listening or He isn't answering. Growing up, everyone told me "God always answers, it's just not always the answer you want." I get it. Just like in parenting, sometimes the answer is no, or not right now, and those are usually not the answers we want.

Is it the Son of God praying in me, or am I dictating to Him?...Prayer is not simply getting things from God, that is a most initial form of prayer, prayer is getting into perfect communion with God. If the Son of God is formed in us by regeneration, He will press forward in front of our common sense and change our attitude to the things about which we pray. - Oswald Chambers

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays. - Soren Kierkegaard

We pray because it changes our lives. We pray because it's who we are. And we pray because God created us to be relational beings and He wants a relationship with us. When we pray, it isn't like placing an order at a drive-thru. We can't dictate to God. We can make requests, pleas, intercessions, etc. We can cry out in anger, fear, pain, and numbness. We can sing praises and thank God for every blessing in our lives. Every prayer we utter, whether out loud or just in our minds, God hears. Meister Eckhart said, "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice." Romans 8:26-27 says, "And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don't know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groaning that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Holy Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will." 

So what I take from that is this: When we don't know what to say, when we're unsure how to articulate what we're feeling in the deepest, darkest, most neglected corners of our heart - God already knows. The incredible power of prayer comes from the tiniest seed of faith. God already knows our needs and desires even before we do. But He longs for us to voice our pain, to trust Him, to ask His help in fighting our battles, and to lean on His strength. He yearns for our love and desires to lavish His love on us. "We can't keep worrying about how clean the corners of our soul are. If we get caught up in that whirlpool of self-loathing and doubt, we're only headed down. But if we come before the God who makes all things new, believing in faith that he knows our true hearts, we are certain to be uplifted," (Sheila Walsh, Get Off Your Knees And Pray). 

So, you see, the secret to perfect prayer is this: There is no such thing as a perfect prayer. We are imperfect humans with real needs and ugly struggles. The secret to perfect prayer is in knowing that it doesn't matter how we pray; it only matters that we are willing to come before God, humble, raw, and with open hearts. If we are willing to reach out to Him, He will embrace us and accept us for the broken and flawed vessels that we are. He already sees beyond our words to our hearts, and He loves us just as we are. The perfect prayer is the prayer voiced. That's it. 

I am going to continue to study prayer as I work my way through Walsh's book, but for now I hope you will join me in getting off our knees and praying! 

Hapless but hopeful,

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