As a disclaimer, I am not an expert on prayer. In fact, I would consider myself rather novice when it comes to this facet of my spiritual life. I don’t know if there’s anything I would consider myself to be an expert on, actually, but prayer is especially a weak point for me. Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.
Despite this fact, I think prayer is one of if not the most important aspect of a Christian’s life. Let’s face it, how else do we talk to Jesus? If He’s the One we’re following and He doesn’t have a cell phone or mailing address (that I know of), what other method of communication are we left with? And if I am to follow Him, I feel like communication is key as in every other relationship.
If prayer is as important as I’m making it to be, then isn’t the way we pray also important by association? This is where my concern lies. This is where I think many prayer lives including my own hit a roadblock at some point and it’s a big one.
From as long as I can remember, a prayer was evaluated based on how eloquent and full of emotion it was. Every time the person praying used the phrases “I just pray that…”, “please bless…”, “be with”, “go ahead of…”, “we leave ___ in Your hands” and similar sayings we’re all familiar with, they scored a point. Now, if you started using other names for God, like Father, Lord, Jehovah, etc. then you got bonus points and then if you strung them together to form a super-interjection in your prayer there was a multiplier to those bonus points. Finally, when the person wanted to express feeling, they had to speak in a raspy whisper. The more the people had to strain to hear the words, the more genuine the prayer had to be.
I know this is getting a little ridiculous, but that’s what it all is, isn’t it? When did we decide on all these as rules for prayer? Better yet, what do they all mean? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, “What did I just pray?” I know half the time I cannot answer when I ask myself.
First of all, God is most definitely a person. He is not a person in being human, but He has all the other characteristics of personhood. In being a person, should we not also communicate with Him like a person? Therefore, “Dear God…” is a completely unnecessary way to begin a prayer. We are not writing a letter, this is far more direct than being God’s pen pal.
God is also far more intelligent than we are, so we can just dispense with the use of flowery and pedantic language in our prayer. We’re praying, not auditioning for Hamlet. In other words, just say what you mean. For instance, what on earth does the verb “bless” actually mean? I understand it’s meaning, but where else in our daily lives do we use the word? Does anyone go to Subway and ask if they can be blessed with a six-inch chicken breast sandwich on whole wheat? No! If you’re asking for blessing, just spell out the end result you’re desiring of God.
Here’s a personal favorite of mine. If we can only communicate with God through prayer, why do we announce that we’re praying? Do we walk up to our friends and say, “Hey, I’m telling you that I say ‘hi’.”? I’m certain you’d be committed if you spoke that way, so what makes it acceptable when talking to God? I just imagine God up there chuckling, “Yes, how else are you going to talk to Me?” Sorry, this just cracks me up.
If God is infinite, then how can He “go ahead”? Time and space are not limitations to Him, therefore He can’t really go anywhere. If He did, then He’s not infinite and I wouldn’t be typing this post. There would be several other negative implications, not the least of which would most likely include multiple simultaneous natural disasters. I mean, God spoke and look what happened; life was created.
Finally, God’s real and natural and everywhere, so He can hear you if you just speak in your normal speaking voice. If you’re feeling particularly emotional with your friends, typically you get a little choked up and it doesn’t sound so pretty but no one cares. The same should be true with God. Raspy whispers express nothing other than maybe Jack Bauer trying to speak in his indoor voice (not taking a shot at my boy, Jack).
While the prayer scene from Talladega Nights seems ludicrous, I don’t think it is all that far off from the ridiculous way I learned to pray over the years. I dare you to just try praying without these prayer cliches and see how many people are looking at you while you do so. Sure, you may not be nominated as your church’s prayer MVP, but I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care about our Christian “trophy cases”. In fact, I think he appreciates the concise, somewhat messy version even more (Matthew 6:5–12).
I know I need to get better at prayer, because I commit each one of these faux pas on a regular basis. The only way to do so, however is practice; therefore, pray! It’ll take time, but make a conscious effort to skip the fluff and just tell God what you mean to tell Him, nothing more. I guarantee it will sound clunky and there will be some uncomfortable silence, but in time it’ll become more natural. You’re undoing a lifetime of learned prayer habits and that is no small task. I can say that I’ve already seen a greater depth in my own prayer life in the short time I’ve been trying this. You may not have the eloquence of Shakespeare, but you will be working toward a depth far greater in your prayer than you may have been able to imagine.