I recently found myself struggling to pray. Each time I started to pray I couldn’t find the words. My prayers sounded something along the lines of, “Lord…um…thank you for today…Amen.” Day after day it was the same. My prayer life was suffering and was causing me to feel guilt and shame for not being able to talk to God. So I did the only thing I could do. I prayed.
Stop…shut your mouth and listen.
“Dear Heavenly Father, I have a problem. I have forgotten how to pray. I can talk all day long to anyone and everyone who will listen, but when I try to talk to you…I’ve got nothing. I don’t understand. I’m sorry. Please help me. Amen.”
I have never been particularly good at praying. Growing up in the Episcopal church, they made it easy for you. They gave you a book that told you exactly what to pray. (Built you a temple and locked you away… couldn’t help the Billy Joel moment.) You really didn’t have to put too much thought (or heart) into what you were saying. I really didn’t do much conversing with God. I just told him what I thought he wanted to hear.
As I grew older, I mastered the fine art of selfish prayer. Prayers that started with, “I need…” and “I want…” Aren’t we all good at those types of prayers? The selfish prayers morphed into the wordy prayers. Prayers that were filled with lots of important sounding words, churchy words, words that would impress the Christians sitting next to me. Prayers that were prayed to impress. Definitely not the kind of prayers that God wants to hear. Is there any wonder why my prayer life was suffering?
God’s response to my prayer didn’t come right away (they rarely do), but soon a thought came to me that was clearly intended to be the answer:
What if God doesn’t want me to talk? What if God wants me to listen?
When we effectively communicate with our spouses, friends, children, parents and significant others, sometimes it is your turn to talk and sometimes it is your turn to listen. Too often our prayers are a one-way interaction. God wants to hear us talk. He tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray continually.” He wants us to be in constant contact, constant communication with him and effective communication includes listening. When you’re done talking, when you’re done praising and petitioning and interceding and thanking, before you sign off and move on with your day, he wants you to listen to what he has to say.
Colossians 4:2 tells us, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” I am learning to be more watchful for what the Lord has to say. Sometimes it’s in a word of encouragement from a friend I trust. Sometimes it’s while spending time in scripture. Sometimes it’s in the moments of quiet meditation when my thoughts are solely focused on Him and his spirit fills me with peace. Being watchful and listening for Him, I have found myself actually praying more. Short prayers. Thankful prayers.
I hear you, Lord. I hear you.
Written for the VUMC E-Blast, January 15, 2016