For better or for worse, I have always struggled with the conventional style of prayer: kneeling beside my bed, folding my hands, and talking to God. I’m not sure why, but for some reason prayer, in general, doesn’t come easy to me. I, by no means, am suggesting that such a method of prayer is wrong or unnecessary. For many people, this is a practice taught to them by their parents, one done every night since childhood, that they taught to their own children—a practice they find very holy. Prayer is indeed a very holy practice that is important for the life of the church and crucial for one’s relationship with God. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to pray to God, our Father, regularly—giving us the words to do so—he, himself, praying many times throughout his own ministry.
During seminary, I was blessed to have an opportunity to be in regular conversation with Lou, a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Despite our differences in beliefs, our talks were always fruitful discussions on religion, faith, and life in general. I remember one of our talks being about my struggle with prayer. Lou comforted my weary heart as he suggested that perhaps my prayers could be opened up beyond the confinements of late night bedside conversations with God. Venturing beyond his own beliefs to console someone he had just met months prior, Lou helped me to consider other times, places, and activities I could use for prayer.
In our talking, the Spirit freed me from some of my captivities with prayer to the point that I began to find prayer more fulfilling during my in-between times. I found the times and places of transition in my day-to-day life great opportunities to talk with God—to voice my thoughts, emotions, hopes, and fears—to rejoice in thanks and praise, and cry out in anger and lamentation. Slowly, prayer began to take a new shape within me. It was no longer a demanding ritual that felt forced, but now a vibrant life-giving practice that felt as natural as breathing.
As I walk from one place to another, I pray for those suffering from varying diseases, that they may find healing and wholeness. Driving to the store, I pray for the leaders of nations worldwide, that they may govern with justice. Waiting for a meeting to begin, I pray for the church universal, that we all may come together as one in our proclamation of the gospel and service to the neighbor. Shoveling snow (which I haven’t done lately with this warm winter), I pray for those who are without food or shelter, that they may be nourished and taken in with love. Today, especially, as I move about in my vacation time, I pray for the family and friends of Ken, a faithful servant of the Lord who passed away yesterday. As one who struggles with what prayer looks like, I want to offer you consolation and comfort in your own prayers. There is no one right way to pray. God hears the prayers of all people—no matter how they are spoken. Whether you feel comfortable with it or you wrestle with uncertainty like me, remember to take prayer one step at a time.