Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Practice of Prayer

Prayer is one of the most fundamental spiritual practices in which we engage. But it is called a practice for a reason - because the more you do it, the better you get at it. And that's true whether you've been praying for five breaths or five decades. (Okay, it's not exactly true. There's no such thing as being bad at prayer - if you're praying, you're good at it. But you do get to where you feel more proficient.) 

Which means that if you are one of the too many Christians who does not currently engage in prayer, I have good news for you: you don't have to be any good at it to start. 

And here's even better news: the prayer list is a great way to begin.

If you are someone who doesn't pray - because you don't know how to pray or because you don't know what to pray for or whatever reason you have - the prayer list is an awesome place to start. Because it's full of other persons of faith asking you to pray for them. They'll tell you what to pray for, and often, they'll tell you what outcome they're hoping for. All you have to do, then, is find your own way to repeat those words to God.

We get all bogged down immediately, it seems. We think that prayer means that we have to have a certain posture, that we have to get on our knees and fold our hands and close our eyes. I have actually heard others tell me that they can't pray any more because their knees don't work so good, so they can't get down on the floor right. 

Friends, that is not what prayer is about.

Prayer doesn't require you to make yourself uncomfortable first. It doesn't require you to change the entire nature of who you are and what you're doing. Done right, prayer will change the nature of who you are and what you're doing, but you don't have to make those changes in order to start praying.

Prayer is just a conversation. That's all it is. You can talk with God like you would talk with anyone you might be taking a phone call with. (And I think it's important to point out the prepositions here, too - you aren't talking "to" God; you are talking "with" Him.) 

So if you're someone who picks up the phone and tucks it on your shoulder and talks with a friend while you're washing the dishes, talk with God while you're washing the dishes. If you're going out to check the mail, take God with you to check the mail. If you prefer to settle down into a comfy chair and give the conversation your full attention, settle down into a comfy chair and talk with God. I hesitate to say it because I so strongly dislike when this happens to me, but if you're someone who takes the phone to the bathroom with you because you don't want to interrupt the conversation, take God to the bathroom with you. (Seriously, though, stop taking me to the bathroom with you.) 

Start with the prayer list. Start by just repeating in your own voice the things that your friends and family, brothers and sisters are asking you to bring before God. Start by just mentioning the things they've asked you to mention. And then, pay attention to what happens. Pay attention to what God does next for that person. 

Because one of the best ways to stay engaged in the practice of prayer is to see how it's paying off. That is, to see how prayer is actually working in the lives of those around you. 

You'll get so comfortable praying the prayer list that before you know it, you'll start praying your own prayers. You'll start praying your own needs. Having this conversation with God will become so natural to you that you won't be intimidated by it any more. 

Pretty soon, you'll be wrapping the cord around your fingers mindlessly as you gab with God with your legs kicked up over the side of the sofa. 

And you'll wonder why it is that you didn't start praying sooner. 

Prayer is a spiritual practice. It's called a practice because you get better at it the more you do it, whether today is your first day or your thousandth. So stop worrying about whether you know how and start thinking about how to learn. And...start praying. 

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