What type of prayer is best?
There are so many possibilities. I’ve been in a couple of situations lately where one type of prayer has been insulted and another given as the ‘right kind’ so I thought I’d share my thoughts about prayer with you.
Christianity is a relationship with God the Father, through Christ the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Christ. And when we think about prayer, these titles are important.
Because what is prayer? It’s a conversation. It’s a way that we build relationship with God. It’s a two-way thing. Time spent.
When my children were babies I had an epiphany. You see, I would often pray as I fell asleep at night and I would feel guilty for falling asleep in the middle of conversation with God. But then, have you ever had a baby fall asleep while you were holding them? It is the best feeling. If you could bottle it, you could make millions. I realised that God the Father doesn’t mind if we are relaxed enough to fall asleep while talking to him. We are his children and he loves us more than I loved my little babies. My love for my children was just a poor reflection of his love for us.
So those prayers you pray when you don’t have the words, when you sigh and groan, or cry, or just smile and then fall asleep, those are good prayers. In fact, the scripture says that the Spirit prays for us when we don’t know what to pray for (Romans 8:26). So this is a good biblical way to pray.
How about the stream of consciousness prayers? You know, you’re walking along the street and you start lifting all of your day to Jesus. ‘Oh Jesus, I’m not sure how I’m going to get through the list of things today. Thank you for the sunshine. Annabelle really needs your help right now. Man, my legs are hurting from climbing this hill. Thank you for the exercise…’ and so on.
I was praying that way one day and I found myself saying, ‘I’m sorry Jesus, you probably don’t need to be bothered by my petty problems.’ And immediately the verse popped into my mind, ‘in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ (Phil 4:6) You see God wants us to be in constant contact with him through the days. Jesus loves to hear our every thought. Again, it’s a bit like having a toddler around. They just chat. When they’re really small they often chat in a language that you can’t understand. Is that a problem? No. We love their conversation, we love that our children want to be with us and communicating. It’s great. It’s biblical. It’s a good way to pray.
So how about those prayers you pray in public? Like when there’s an end of year function and you’ve been asked to pray on stage. So you carefully write down all you want to say in the prayer. You might even prayerfully write down what you want to pray. You are praying on behalf of others, after all, and you want the prayer to be right. Is this prayer as worthy as the prayer that spontaneously arises from the thanksgiving in your heart? Yes I think it is.
Again, if you think of children it becomes clear. Maybe they’ve written a poem, or rehearsed a piece, and they want to show it to you. At a school camp recently the grade 9 class sat around the campfire and made up a song of thanksgiving to their head of year teacher. Do you think he said, ‘Look thanks guys, but I’d feel like we had a stronger relationship if you just said the words off-the-cuff instead.’ No he didn’t. He loved it. He was raving about it days later. I think it will be a memory that stays in his heart for the rest of his life.
So yes, I believe God loves our prepared prayers. He loves the effort we put in to make it great both for him and for his children who are listening.
And then there are the prayers that are hundreds of years old.
I usually attend an Anglican church. In our service we sometimes pray prayers that come from the liturgy. The language has been changed a little to make them more accessible but the words have been said by millions of people over hundreds of years. ‘Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open’ ‘Father, we offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice’ ‘Eternal God and Father by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed’ and so on.
It’s true that we can put our minds into a holding pattern and just say the prayers on automatic but it doesn’t have to be that way. Sometimes the prayers written by others are a gateway into meditation. Sometimes the words are just the thing to jolt you out of yourself, to make you think on your life in a new way. Sometimes they are a reminder of just who God is. I think that God loves to hear us pray these kinds of prayers too.
It’s not just the church prayers. These prayers can be found in all kinds of prayer and devotion books. The Spirit prays for us when we don’t know what to pray, but I believe also that the Spirit has inspired some of these written prayers so that we can use the words of others when we don’t have words for ourselves. And after all, Jesus himself taught us to pray ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name’ (Matt 6:9, Luke 11:2). No, I believe that these prayers are also loved by God.
And then let’s go back to silence. To just sitting in God’s presence with no words at all. To listening to him and giving him space to speak to us if he wants to. It’s a special kind of relationship that doesn’t need any words. Comfortable silence. What a joy to meet with God that way.
I don’t have room to write about the shouting prayers, the ‘why?’ prayers, the real connection with God in the ugly parts of life. I’m sure that he can cope with that too, he’s big enough to deal with our anger and sadness.
So however you pray, whatever words you use or don’t use, whether you are shut away in your prayer closet or on display for the whole church to see, I believe that God loves it all. There is no ‘one right way to pray’. As long as your heart is for connection with him, that’s all that matters.
I pray for you that you will connect with God in a special way this Christmas. That somewhere, whether it be saying grace for your Christmas dinner, or over a candle at the midnight service, or surrounded by screwed up wrapping paper in your lounge room, you will make a space to build relationship with the God of the universe who humbled himself as a baby and came to earth for us all those years ago.
Have a wonderful and very blessed Christmas. If you want to see more from me you can head to http://www.ruthamos.com.au and you can sign up there to receive this blog weekly. I look forward to sharing more with you in the new year.