I would imagine that everyone reading this is able to finish that little prayer. I would also imagine, like so many things in our religious world, prayer is a place where we often differ. I have some friends who have used that prayer, as well as others, to teach their children how to pray. I also have other friends who think that you should never teach your children to pray a wrote, dead prayer. It seems to me that we can add prayer to our list of things that we are confused and disagree about.
My favorite gospel is the one written by Luke. I love the way that he includes Jesus’ interaction with women and the outcast. I love the little nuggets that he includes in his gospel, that give us a better insight to Jesus and His disciples. And I love that he included the fact that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). It gives me a bit of hope since I have often been confused and struggled with my prayer life.
Back in 2001 we were blessed with our first child, which was a seminal moment in my personal and in my spiritual life. As I struggled to relate to him and then to his brother, I learned an awful lot about God, prayer, and the way we communicate. It was through my kids that God taught me how to pray.
First I learned the power of presence. There is an old joke that preachers are lucky because we only have to work an hour a week (or 4 hours a week if you have to teach Bible class, two services on Sunday, and Wednesday night). Preachers hate that joke. I would not say that we are busier than people who work in other fields, but we have this ability to spiritualize everything we do. Since visiting, going to the hospital, writing, and studying are all considered kingdom work it is easy to sacrifice your family for the kingdom.
When we first found out we were going to have a child, I was approached by an older minister who told me the worst thing he ever did was sacrificed his family for the kingdom. He stressed that I needed to be present, because my child needed a dad more that the church needed a minister. That was sage advice.
The lesson I gleaned in my prayer life is that if I am going to pray I have to show up, be present, and pray. It is far too easy to allow life to get in the way of what really matters. So many of us intend to pray after we (you fill in the blank or blanks) and we never get around to praying. So I have reminders to show up and pray. My phone has alarms to remind me to pray. I have a bracelet with 6 knots that remind me to pray about six specific areas. I have set a habit of praying at specific places, because if I am going to pray I need to be present.
Secondly, I learned that I have to be be still and quiet. My boys are your typical tightly wound spring in a bowl of jello type of boys. When they see me they want to tell me about their latest and greatest accomplishment or victory. Without fail we quickly move from one story to another only to jump back to the original story in mid stream. When they were younger I would try to direct them, finish their stories for them, or tell them to hurry and finish because I had to go do something else. It wasn’t long until I began to notice that all of the information I was getting about the boys was coming from my wife. I asked my younger son why he was telling his mom about his day and not me. He replied, “She lets me sit by her and talk”. I felt like dad of the year.
One of the struggles I have had in my prayer life is that I believed I was supposed to talk to God. I would start and just vomit all of this stuff up say amen and think I had prayed. What I failed to realize is that prayer is a conversation. While God longs to hear my concerns, frustrations, hopes, and joys; He also longs for me to be quiet and just be with Him. He longs for His children to come and sit beside Him, talk, and be still. I love the beauty of Habakkuk 2; after talking about the worthlessness of idols the prophet admonishes his hearers that the Lord is in His temple, let the whole earth be still and quiet in His presence. Prayer is not talking to God but talking with God. And some of the best prayers are the times we choose to be still and quiet.
Lastly I have learned to expect to hear from God. In my house there is no such thing as a rhetorical question. If you ask a question, you are going to get an answer. The back door is left open so I ask the dad question, Where you born in a barn? And they reply, nope a hospital, you were there right? It’s not that the boys are disrespectful, we just don’t do sarcasm very well. Every question has an answer and every statement has a reply.
I know folks who say that God has talked to them, they have heard His audible voice. I have never heard God’s voice, although I don’t believe it would be a deep James Earl Jones kind of voice. I believe it would be a regular sounding voice. But I have experienced His answers. Jesus says in Matthew 7 that if we ask God will make sure we receive. I understand that we have to ask in faith, and that we must ask with an understanding of God’s will, and sometimes God says no and sometimes He says slow. But let’s go back to what Jesus said. Ask and you will receive. Plainly Jesus is saying that we need to expect to hear from God.
My favorite way that I hear from God comes from an idea I got from listening to Louie Giglio. He shared this idea he calls the One Word Bible Study. The cliff notes version is that we take a passage and we spend an extended time of meditation on one word at a time. This is how I most often hear from God. I pray with my Bible open. I read through a text and pray and then meditate on His words, one at a time. I expect to hear from God, and in that expectation I hear God talk. As I focus on that one word, my mind opens up to a thousand different words and memories. And while it’s not audible, I can hear the voice of God in those moments one word at a time.
We have been given the opportunity to draw near to the creator of the universe and bend His ear. Prayer is a beautiful gift of God’s grace and mercy. He longs to spend time and dwell with us. Our greatest discovery is when we realize that prayer is not just another check mark on our journey; prayer is actually our destination.