One of the lessons I had the privilege to teach during confirmation this year was on prayer. Prayer is not always easy. In fact, it can be downright difficult. The words for prayer just don’t always seem to come when they are needed.
There are plenty of times when the words to a prayer might come to mind easily. Sitting with dread waiting to hear news on a situation, hoping for good news but expecting bad, someone might simply pray, “Lord, help me!” After a surprisingly happy experience where there is unexpected outright joy, a person might say, “Lord, thank you!” These are the life events where either good or bad emotions run naturally high. Prayer, even if it is a simple prayer, can just come during those times, but it does not always work that way. Why does it seem like there are so many times when prayer just seems hard?
There are lots of faithful, mature, educated members of this very congregation, who find it hard to find the words for prayer. Folks might be asked to lead a prayer for a small group, and they cringe at that thought. We may open our mouth or heart and nothing comes. Perhaps to start, try this prayer out: “Lord,... I don’t know what to pray…”
It’s alright when the words fail us for prayer. Getting the words out really isn’t the point of prayer, because the act of praying itself is the whole point of prayer. Open yourself to God in prayer and listen. Yes, we might feel shameful and embarrassed when we can’t just simply find the words to tell God what concerns are heavy on our minds. And, yes, we might not think that we are being heard by God, unless we get our words right. My friends, we do not need to dwell in such a dark place. We don’t need to let our minds be continuously troubled if our prayers to the Lord just seem so terribly awkward to our own ears. Prayers are not said to be heard by the people around us. We pray to be heard by God and have the assurance that God hears.
There is no magic series of words for prayer, no perfect formula that when followed guarantees your prayer will be heard by God. This is simply because, no matter what, your prayer will be heard by God.
Jesus anticipated our difficulty with prayer. Matthew 6:5-15 gives us the Lord’s Prayer (which is something you can ALWAYS pray if you don’t know what to say). Jesus offers three statements about how to pray: 1) Don’t shout it at the top of your lungs simply because you want to be heard by others. 2) Make your prayer genuine. 3) Don’t be afraid to make your prayer generalized and non-specific, after all, God knows what you need before you ask him (Matt 6:8).
When there is a situation where you know you need to be praying to God, but the words for prayer just aren’t coming, do not let that shut down the communication that already exists between you and our loving creator. Pray, without fear, embarrassment, or shame. Even when it seems like the right words aren’t coming to us, God is still listening.
In Christ – Vicar Matt