I have a confession to make: I am horrible at prayer. Despite this weakness, I still keep trying. It is good to talk with God, to invite Him into my craziness. But I think prayer is more than just talking to God. Prayer is also listening to God, which is more beneficial, more difficult and probably why most people avoid it. I hate it when people ramble on and on and never stop to listen to what I have to say. I am a good listener but even then, once and a while, I like to say a thing or two. God just might feel the same way. Despite being a good listener, I have trouble hearing God’s voice.
Some people say that when you wake up in the morning, you should ask God to let you see Him at work that day so you are aware of His presence. Most days I never wake up to God’s presence. I go through my day with a running conversation in my head, but mostly with myself. I forget to invite God into it. No wonder it is hard for me to hear God’s voice. I never give Him room to speak.
Some people pray in the car while driving. I tried it one very early morning on my way to work. Out of nowhere, some idiot, er…, some precious child of God with really poor judgment, raced by me derailing my train of thought with God. I never did get the train back on the tracks. So much for praying while driving.
I used to pray Becky Tirabassi style, in a certain order with all those divisions and dividers. Then I wondered if this was intimacy. Why so much order and formality? Didn’t God say to boldly approach the throne of grace? Become like a little child? Didn’t Jesus say to call God our father? I gave up on the divisions and divider method, mostly from sheer exhaustion. Most days, when I remember to pray, I feel like an infant with God. I just don’t have any words. Maybe this is what the Holy Spirit does—He translates my nothingness to the Father, who understands my weaknesses, knows my heart and what I would have said, if I could have just found the words.
As children, we learn to talk from hearing other people talk. I think it works the same with prayer. I have heard a lot of people pray, which has led to a lot of confusion. One thing that baffles me is the constant use of “Lord” in prayer: “Lord, we just come to you today, Lord, asking that you, Lord, will be with, Lord, Aunt Sally, Lord, in this time of need, Lord, be especially with her family, Lord…” Does the Lord need all this reminding that we are talking to Him? If I say His name many times, will He hear me more? Will my prayers go to the head of the line because I invoked His name so often? Isn’t this what Jesus warned about when he warned against babble?
Another thing that perplexes me is how people can pray for so long and know what to say. As an introvert, I have to think about what I am going to say before I say it. Extroverts, on the other hand, seem to just open their mouths and words come out. They think about what they say as they say it. Their method of speaking without thinking first could get me in serious trouble, so I avoid it.
I am also puzzled by requests for prayer. What do I pray for? Many people pray “Be with Susie during this time.” Didn’t Jesus promise to always be with us? Isn’t this prayer redundant, like asking your husband to marry you? Other people will ask for prayer for situations and outcomes. I don’t know what is needed. Who am I to tell God what to do? Some people ask for wisdom. Scripture says we have the mind of Christ and that He offers wisdom to all who ask. Why don’t they just ask Jesus for wisdom? Why do they ask others to ask for them? Isn’t that triangling?
Once and a while I hear a prayer request that just leaves me dazed. The other day someone announced the death of a fellow believer and said, “Please remember him in prayer.” What? The person is dead. His spirit is with Jesus now. How much better can it get? So how am I to pray for a man who is with Jesus?
Some people have pet peeves, about TV commercials, restaurants even their coffee tables. I have one pet peeve about prayer. (By now, you might be thinking that I have a lot of pet peeves about prayer.) Here it is: I hate prayer circles. I don’t want to hold hands with people I don’t know and pray for their aunts’ and uncles’ health conditions. Prayer is personal and intimate. So let’s gather in intimate little groups of twos and threes like Jesus said to and pray. I can be real in a small group, but in a big group, all that I would want to pray about would be my aunt’s health, except she is dead (and I am pretty sure she is with Jesus). However, in a small group, if I embarrass myself, fumble over my words or say something stupid, I won’t die a slow agonizing, humiliating death on the drive home.
Anne Lamott, my favorite writer, has a book on prayer called Help, Thanks, Wow. She has distilled all prayer down to those simple words. I think her approach might work for me. As an introvert, my words would be already pre-planned, thus lowering my prayer-anxiety. If people ask for prayer, I can just say, “Help, God” or “Help, God, I don’t have a clue what to say. Could you just fill in the blanks?” When the idiot driver, I mean that precious child of God, races by me on the freeway, all I have to say is “Thanks, God.” If I happen to be feeling wordy that day, I could lengthen my prayer to “Thanks, God, that the idiot didn’t hit me.” And when asked to pray for the man who died, who is finally with Jesus, I can just say “Wow.”
GENEVA CHINNOCK is a writer and author of Becoming His Beloved: Journey into the Father’s Affection. Geneva has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master in Business Administration. In her spare time, Geneva loves reading, eating bacon and attending live theater. She lives in Southern California with her husband and blogs about matters of faith at TreasuredbyGod.com.