Thoughts on Prayer

prayerIdeas of what I should, and should not, pray about are a problem in my life. I freely confess that I am not a good “pray-er” – I never seem to know what to say, I am sure I fail to say things I am supposed to, and I can’t even manage to close my eyes during prayers in church because it makes me anxious! I generally feel very inadequate about it, and sometimes even find myself reluctant to try to pray in case I get it wrong, in case I say or fail to say something that gives the impression I am disrespecting God, that I am not honouring him properly, not treating him as I should.

I listen to other people praying in church and I realise that I am nowhere near as formal as they are – my prayers are generally along the lines of a chat, much like the “test” conversations I have in my head with others, in order to think things through. I witter on to God, as though I were thinking to myself, rather than in some coherent, organised and formal way. Essentially my private prayers are along the lines of mental/verbal diarrhoea, which I am sure is not how I should be talking to God.

However, part of me says that prayer is a conversation with my Friend, and that there is nothing wrong with speaking to God as my friend, just as I would with those I am close to. I do think the formal prayers have a purpose, as does the more stately praising and thanksgiving (as opposed to, “I’ve had a nice day today Lord, thanks very much”) I suppose that really I think a combination of the two is important. It is something I struggle with, and am trying to learn more about – as I say, I am not a good “pray-er” although I would like to be.

I tend to place rules on what I should and should not pray about, rules I am not so sure are actually correct. For instance, I think that if I find someone attractive, I should not be praying “I fancy so-and-so, please Lord may they like me too.” I suppose that is because I think of sexual/romantic thoughts as being less worthy, too low, too earthy to be brought to God. Now, that is my gut reaction, but my head tells me something different – the Bible says that we should:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

and

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. (Psalm 55:22)

It seems that whatever troubles us – however “insignificant” – should be brought before God. Indeed, if I have a little problem – like fancying someone – I would mention it to my friends, so why not God? The Bible talks about giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) – talking to God whatever is happening to us. I suppose it is part of the idea that God doesn’t just want our goodness, that he is not just looking for some super-spiritual wonderful person, that he loves and redeems the whole of us, from the head to the feet, and everything in between. So I think that he is also interested in all of us, all our cares and concerns from the trivial to the major – from the worthy (world peace, and end to poverty) to the small (may my football team win, may this food be tasty.)

This idea helps me when it comes to prayer. I may be deeply depressed, but I am likely to think that I shouldn’t bother to pray, not so much because I do not think God can/would answer, but because I think that there are far more worthy things to be praying about. After all, what am I? Just a fairly insignificant human being, whose well-being doesn’t really matter, whose happiness and suffering are a bit pathetic compared to the awful suffering some people endure. So I end up not praying for God’s help because I think that he has far better things to be concerned about.

Of course – when I think about it, God does not have a finite amount of time he can spend listening to us, a finite amount of power he can spend helping us. It is not a black/white one/other situation – praying for relief from my feelings doesn’t mean that I cannot pray for the poor, and certainly doesn’t mean that God, if he helps my illness, thereby makes a choice not to help someone else.

We should, I think, pray for everything that is in our lives, and every concern, no matter how small. Paul talks a little of this in 1 Thessalonians – giving three things we should do in our lives:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

These are three hard things – rejoicing and giving thanks when we are ill is very hard. Not natural. But we are told to do so – even if we do not feel it at the time. That doesn’t, of course, mean that we cannot complain about things that are happening, doesn’t invalidate the feelings that we have about our sickness, our suffering, injustice that may be happening to us – but it means to pray in faith, in faith that the God we serve cares, that he is working in us and in our world for the good, even when things don’t seem like it. I try (and I confess that I fail often) to pray, saying thank you to God for the good things in my life, even if the bad things seem to outweigh them. And of course, even when I can think of little in my life that is good, I can give thanks for the healing that I know God will bring me, even if that healing will come after this life.

I am not saying that we cannot rage at injustice, that we cannot tell God our hurts as well as praise him and give thanks. I don’t think the Bible teaches that at all. I have been reading Psalm 142 recently, and I noticed that David praises God, and prays to him in faith, but I also noticed that he prays about injustice, about the problems in his life, saying:

I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble. (Psalm 142:1-2)

God doesn’t want us to simply say “everything is wonderful” when it is not – I don’t believe God wants pious lies, but the truth. There is nothing wrong with saying “Lord, my life is awful, I feel awful, I want to die, please help me” – in fact I think God wants us to talk to him in distress. Balancing that with rejoicing always and giving thanks is hard, although I do think that it can be a discipline, something we do that does not come naturally and which takes time to do as a normal part of prayer. Praying continually means, to me, that we pray for everything in our lives as well as for the world, and those around us. God to me is my friend, is someone who cares for me personally, and I know that with my own friends I want to know what troubles them, not just listen to them talk about bad things happening to other people. That makes sense to me, although of course I could be completely wrong.

As I mentioned, I am not a good pray-er, so don’t talk my meanderings in this post too much to heart.

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Comments

  1. The first condition to be a good pray-er, as you put it, is to be honest in your words. It seems you have successfully accomplished this first condition. So, don’t fear and keep on having an honest conversation with God. Blessings!

  2. You are amazing – Jesus knows your needs before you voice them and your wonderful open heart and honesty show that you are a fantastic prayer and have a wonderful relationship with him.

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