But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:6
Do you remember the first time you tried to ride a “grown up” bike–no training wheels, just you and two wobbly tires and the hope that when your parent let loose of the seat, you wouldn’t smash immediately into the ground? Or what about the first time you slipped behind the steering wheel of a real car, with your parents’ permission or not. If you were smart, you knew just enough to be a little bit afraid of the almost 2,000 pounds of machinery you had in the palms of your hands.
There is almost nothing besides breathing that we humans do not do without first having some help figuring out how to do that something well. Even though Paul explains to us that “. . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26), we can learn much about how to pray, not only from the Bible, but also from each other:
“Let us never forget to pray. God lives. He is near. He is real. He is not only aware of us but cares for us. He is our Father. He is accessible to all who will seek Him.”
― Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one”
― Bruce Lee
“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
― Mother Teresa
“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
― Abraham Lincoln
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
― Meister Eckhart
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
― St. Francis of Assisi
But, lessons on prayer don’t have to be from someone “famous.” Each church meeting is a chance to listen to others pray and learn from them. If you listen closely, you will often hear phrases from the Bible and hymns, humble requests in full recognition of God’s will, a truthfulness about ourselves and our relationships with others that is sometimes so raw as to be almost painful. You will also hear the calm serenity of true peace that comes with the acceptance of that will.
The Bible, of course, is full of examples of prayers and advice about praying:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing. in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
And sometimes, lessons on prayer can come when you least expect them, like sitting on the floor of your office putting together a new chair and having your father-in-law ask you point-blank how you pray. Luckily, after you stumble through your answer, he gives you three really useful pointers for your prayers that go something like this:
- Begin by picturing yourself in the long, flowing robe you have been walking around in all day. The robe was clean when you put it on, but now it is dusty, dirty brown from the sandy path you have been walking. Pray for God to wash away the grime in the name of Christ; watch the ugliness of sin melt away from your robe until it is beautifully, glaringly white. You are in a peaceful meadow, washed clean, and ready to enter the perfect Presence of the One and Only. Take a moment to be thankful of this opportunity to communicate with the Maker of Heaven and Earth, an opportunity purchased for you through Christ’s blood.
- Now that you are fully in the presence of God, you can ask to have a heart like Christ’s so that you might fulfill the commandment which encompasses all the others: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). A heart like Christ’s will embrace compassion, seek God always, see through eyes of love.
- Finally, you can pray for the wisdom of Christ, so that you might know the true will of God and do it. Wisdom knows the Bible in its totality and doesn’t decide right and wrong based on what “feels right.” Wisdom is self-aware of one’s own frailties and failings. Wisdom is slow to anger and knows that judgment is that work of God and not of man.
When you have prepared your mind in this way as you pray, you will find that your heart and brain are working together to really pray to God with your whole self. You are more focused on thinking about the needs of others as well as yourself. Most importantly, you are fully aware of the privilege of standing before the throne of God.
I Will Shine His Light this week by practicing my prayers. Knowing that, like any good thing worth doing, prayer too takes practice, I will rejoice in my opportunities to approach the Father. I will be glad that even if my prayers are only groanings, I can be confident that God understands me anyway.