As a pastor, I frequently hear requests that go something like this: “Hey, pastor, I need you to pray for something for me, since I know you have a better connection to God than I do.”
And while I’m always glad to pray on behalf of others, I have to be up front and confess that my “connection to God” is certainly no better than anyone else’s. And if I’m real honest, I’ll admit that on some days I am sure it’s much worse.
Recent surveys show that over half of all Americans say they pray every day, and even three percent of self-described atheists admit to praying at least monthly (although there’s no information regarding to whom or to what those prayers are offered). But despite the common occurrence of prayer, most of us have this nagging sense that we’re not “doing it right.”
Is one particular posture preferred to another? What sort of words are we supposed to use? Do people who can pray in an ancient language like Hebrew or Greek have some sort of intercessory advantage? What if I’m praying about things that are too small or too selfish for God to bother with?
Some excellent advice I’ve heard on prayer is simply this: Pray as you can, not as you can’t. Prayer is nothing more and nothing less than offering ourselves to God, right where we are, just as we are. The truth is, nobody ever really learns all there is to know about prayer, because God – who is infinite and eternal – is the ultimate subject of our prayers.
The best resource for jump-starting our prayer life is the Book of Psalms in the Bible. Refreshingly, the full range of human emotion, from joy to sadness to anger, and even doubt and darkness, all are expressed in these timeless words. When our own imaginations fail us, and our own hearts seem dry, praying through one or more of the Psalms can redirect our souls to God, bringing us peace and clarity in the midst of turmoil and confusion.
As David wrote in Psalm 27, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to You, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’”
Cultivating the habit of prayer, even on those days when it’s the last thing we want to do, brings us before the face of God, who renews and restores us as we realize that the greatest answer to our prayers is God himself.
The Rev. Ed Rees is the pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church.