Douglas Steere wrote that when we intend to come under the gaze of God, to open our heart to God’s scrutiny, to go over our lives and our plans and our relationships in God’s presence, and when we feel the wave of gratitude at God’s being what God is, then we are praying.
Steere was not trying to define prayer. He was not saying prayer always takes the form he described. Prayer rises out of many experiences. For some of us, prayer is brief, unscripted, spontaneous, conversational. For others prayer is long outpourings to God, written, planned beforehand, filled with the traditional language of prayer. Prayer is conversation, confession, worship. Prayer is prayed aloud or prayed in the mind. But sometimes prayer isn’t what we need or want it to be.
Countless books have been written on the subject of prayer and new ones are pouring out all the time. Thousand-year old classics and the latest word on prayer via the internet are available. One result of that is that we pray. Still, I think most of us feel our prayer life is anemic. We want to pray “better,” whatever “better” means.
Several times I have been encouraged to write or at least to think through a biography of my prayer life. When I have done that, I find that the first prayer I remember is asking God to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins. I didn’t want to go to Hell! It was as close to the sinner’s prayer as a seven-year old could come.
Since that prayer God has often turned my face toward Him through prayer. He has used my desire for prayer and my need for it. My feelings that my prayer is inadequate have spurred me to pray, not to give it up. I have looked for strategies, methods, “tricks” to improve my prayer. Some help for a while, but none last. I forget to pray. I schedule away time set aside for prayer. Sometimes, I just don’t want to pray even though the Spirit seems to be calling me to prayer. And there are times when God is indeed God in my prayer.
Most of you reading these words are praying people. You likely have a time set aside to be with God, perhaps to read or listen, to worship, to pray. You pray often during the day quickly and quietly. Some of you, although you are afraid or ashamed to admit it, are tired of praying. You are tired of praying and not sensing God’s presence in any way. You may be tired of praying because you can’t seem to get it right. You don’t pray the way you want to pray. You may be tired because despite all your prayers, God isn’t responding in any way you recognize. Still, despite your fatigue or frustration, you have not stopped praying—and God has not stopped listening.
Pause for a moment and think about how you pray. I don’t mean the words you say or what you ask for or how you praise God in your prayer. Think about the time of day, the model or habit you follow in prayer. Have you told God just how much trouble you have praying?
How you and I pray depends on many things, foremost is the work of the Holy Spirt. He is the power of God at work in the world. Without some awareness of and sensitivity to the Spirit, our prayer becomes earth-bound, dry, consumed by the here and now. Circumstances and personality are important, too, in the way we pray. Stresses, responsibilities, and opportunities are not the same for all of us. Moreover, life changes over the years and may call for a different expression of prayer. In Sacred Pathways Gary Thomas wrote about our “inner wiring.” Different folks need and profit from different sorts of prayer. Spending time under the gaze of God, for instance, is frightening for some of us and refreshing for others. In short, thinking about what makes you “tick,” learn to pray as you can and not as you cannot.