Praying, Naturally.

10 09 2010

I was raised in a home that always included Jesus; I don’t remember a time when He wasn’t sitting at our table. My earliest memories include Him; it was always understood that He was a part of our lives and was Someone I could talk to and Someone who would guide me through life. God was powerful and He was also very personal; I understood that. Even when I was very small, a natural part of problem-solving was my mother asking, “Have you talked to Jesus about it?” And if I hadn’t, I did.

I would never describe my home as “religious” though. There were never practices that were forced upon me.  We did go to church on Sundays, but I never felt it was out of duty.  My parents were always active in serving, and were part of a “church plant” that had a sense of vibrancy and purpose. There was “family” and “comfort” in the community of the church (and besides all that, the building was the perfect venue to play hide-n-seek).

Having said that, there were things early on that crept in along with what was a healthy understanding of God that became extra-layers that I still work at shedding; I had to think of that as I read Acts 1:12-14 today; especially verse 14, “…they all joined together constantly in prayer…”

Three words always made me feel guilty in church: Devotions, Evangelism, and Prayer. Even today when I read that verse in Acts, my very first thought was, “I should pray more,” and I visualized what devoted prayer “looks like” (and I don’t look like that). As I am sitting here thinking about why those three things were troubling to me, I realize it was because well-meaning people took what was meant to be so natural (like eating or getting dressed or enjoying the company of a friend) and turned them into a system with rights/wrongs and secrets to success that the average person needed to take a course for.

I have always wrestled with this. If God wants me to pray, wouldn’t prayer be plain? Do I need a binder of instructions to tell me how to pray, and the words to say in this situation or that? Isn’t God equally attentive to the prayers of the little child as He is to those of grown-ups? If so, how can prefab prayer be more effective?

It isn’t that I don’t have anything to learn about prayer (see my AfterWord). Even the disciples asked Jesus to show them how to pray and many people are shy about praying, not knowing “how.” We can be fuzzy about what prayer is for and how God feels about our prayers. Taking in some teaching on the topic so that we have a greater understanding about the world of prayer is not a bad thing.

But what is “bad” is when we systematize prayer because “that’s how you should pray,” or make it seem like magic: “if you pray this way, it is guaranteed to work!” When we chase after someone else’s prayers as if they are the ticket to God hearing and acting, that just goes against the whole idea of our heavenly Father caring about us personally; who we are, where we are. It takes away from our very “groanings” being enough to call on God,

Give ear to my words, O LORD, Consider my groaning (Psalm 5:1)

What does praying constantly look like; sound like? If I write out my thoughts here will it become some else’s system? I sure hope not. I have a lot to learn about praying; I am sure that even towards the end I will say, “Why didn’t I pray more?” I think I will say this because I believe that prayer is, naturally, a constant interaction between God and I, and I often forget that I believe this.

There are times when I actually get quiet and alone and pray; but mostly my prayers are shower prayers, and road prayers, and in-front-of-the-computer prayers. My prayers are often short and, many times, interrupted. Sometimes my prayers are half-a-thought and when God answers them I think of how good He is to take my scatter-brained requests seriously.

Sometimes my prayers are spoken, but over the years I have practiced journaling prayers. These are great ones because they actually make sense and have a beginning, middle and end. I started writing my prayers in a journal when my kids were small because I just couldn’t concentrate, and I wanted to say things and ask for things and share things with God that were going on around me; this was the only way that I could get it all out. Often I didn’t understand what I wanted to say until it was on the paper.

I think some people have a gift for prayer and can pray up a storm (I am not kidding, I think they literally can pray up a storm); that isn’t me. But I have seen answers to prayer, many of them, and what always makes me feel so privileged is that I know my prayer was so simple, it was no “conjuring up” kind of prayer, that I deserve not a single ounce of credit for the answer. That God even heard my five words, astounds me and fills me with the kind of gratitude you only feel in the presence of grace.

Prayer is acknowledgment of God “in all my ways” (Proverbs 3:6) at all times, everywhere. Prayer reminds me that God is there and here. Prayer reminds me that I have no control over anything. Prayer reminds me to trust and also releases me from worry.

Prayer is not step one, step two, step three. It’s just steps; it’s just what you do as you walk. I think prayer is natural like that.

— Teresa Klassen

AfterWord: A book that I absolutely LOVED on the topic of prayer was The Power of a Praying® Parent by Stormie Omartian; I loved how she helped me focus on a lot of different areas I could be praying for my children; things I hadn’t even thought of that mattered. The short introduction she gave to each topic and then the prayer she wrote out was a gift to me; it was like reading someone else’s journal.  I still use it from time to time for inspiration.

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