Lord, Teach Me to Pray
My hunch is that of all spiritual disciplines, prayer is the one that people feel most guilty about. Somehow it seems that if we really love God prayer should flow out of us without effort or discipline. In fact, this was not the case even with Jesus’ first followers.
They had a front row seat to watch the greatest pray-er who ever prayed. And they noticed that things happened when he prayed. And they asked: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
This is a startling request because as Jews the disciples would have known all about prayers. They would have grown up with prayers offered through the day, before meals, at the beginning of Sabbath, and when they went to synagogue. They weren’t just asking what words to say. The disciples noticed Jesus looked forward to prayer and actually hungered for it. They saw that somehow prayer fed Jesus’ soul the way food fed their stomachs. They observed a richly interactive life between Jesus and his Father. They noticed that at crisis points—when Jesus was grieving over the death of John the Baptist, when he experienced need, when he was tired from ministry—his consistent response was to pray. They wanted to be nourished by prayer the way that Jesus was. So they asked him to teach them.
Here’s the lesson: Prayer is learned behavior. Nobody is born an expert at it. No one ever masters prayer.
Simple prayer is the most common type of prayer in Scripture. Jesus himself teaches it when he tells us to pray for our daily bread. Sometimes it looks amazingly non-spiritual, as when Gideon asks God to give a few more reasons why he should trust Him.
I have had to learn to be fully present when praying. I have had to learn to become aware of and speak with God about what is actually happening within me during prayer. Talking to God directly about what is happening has made prayer become a much more lively experience in my life.
Jesus often taught about intercessory prayer, and if his teachings could be summarized by a single word it would probably be “persistence.” He told parables about people who would not stop requesting—if persistence pays off even on the human level where we have to overcome resistance and apathy on the part of those we approach, how much more should we continue to persist when we approach a heavenly Father whose love and wisdom exceed our wildest imaginings?
Prayer, perhaps more than any other activity, is the concrete expression of the fact that we are invited into a relationship with God. In addition to all the other work that gets done through prayer, perhaps the greatest work of all is the knitting of the human heart together with the heart of God.
Sometimes people fail to learn more about prayer because they don’t reflect on what actually happens when they pray. Take time to reflect. Think of this as what we might do after a visit with a good friend. We spend a few moments alone and think about our time together.