There are as many ways to pray as there are people. There is not any magic formula. What is effective for one isn’t for another.
Our Healthy Plate Discipleship focus this week is prayer. Disciples pray.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us one insight on how to pray, saying, “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)
I remember hearing these words of Jesus as a kid and being perplexed: “Go to your room (some translations say ‘closet’) and shut the door.” What about public prayer? What about praying outside? What does that mean, exactly? Was Jesus talking about a literal closet? Aside from warning his disciples about using prayer as a way of showing off, falling into hypocrisy, perhaps what Jesus was saying was more metaphorical: the room (or closet) is really entering into a different frame of mind, free of distractions. Perhaps what Jesus is calling his disciples to do is to be very intentional about focusing on connecting with God.
Jesus went on to say, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)
When the Apostle Paul addresses prayer, he just says, “ . . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
I think it’s pretty clear that disciples find their own ways to pray — ways that allows us to find that inner stillness, time, and space that enables us to make a connection to God.
For me, sitting quietly in a room is tough. It seems strange to say it this way, but in moving, in walking, I find the stillness that I need. So, walking the labyrinth or taking a walk in the park is a good setting for me to pray because when I’m moving, prayer just comes more easily and feels more natural. That’s just the way I’m wired. But, for others, sitting quietly in a room is the very best way for them to pray. We are all different.
Prayer isn’t about saying the right words. Rather, it is about going into a place (literal or metaphorical) where we are putting ourselves intentionally in the presence of God and opening ourselves to God’s presence and leading. In my mind that is how we are able to express what is going on with us in our lives — even when our feelings may be inexpressible, what Paul calls “sighs too deep for words.”
Can we follow Jesus more faithfully in how we pray? Jesus went off to pray by himself all the time. He probably didn’t go into a closet — but he did go into the wilderness, into a boat, up a hill, and for a walk through a garden. The object, I think, in all of this was to be intentionally alone with God.
I look forward to talking with you more this Sunday about how we can be followers of Jesus and his example in prayer and praying.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster