Do you ever get tired of reading books that tell you that you have it all wrong, that what you are doing cannot and will not work? The author lays out a plan for doing it the ‘right way’, but the thing is, this contradicts everything that you read in the previous book, which disagreed with the talk you heard, which was in complete discord with the advice of a trusted friend. The problem isn’t that the experts disagree on minor details. No, one expert says “Never, ever, do this” while the other says, “always, only do this.” It is true in the physical realm, but also true in the spiritual. Most of us get tired of constantly being given contradictory directions to our desired destination.
Books on prayer often baffle. This one says, “Hound God constantly until you get what you want.” That one says, “Stop begging, ask once, then trust.” Another advises, “Make your request very clear and specific so God knows what you need.” Counter advice says, “God knows your needs, just thank Him for providing!” This one has a daily prayer list, that one simply says “bless those in need.” ‘Pray the psalms’, ‘don’t pray in the old covenant like a Jew’, ‘ask and you shall receive’, ‘you have already received so stop asking’--and on and on and on it goes… Is God so hard to reach? Is God so demanding that unless you get your prayer technically just right He won’t answer? And if all these “experts” cannot find common ground, how is a prayer novice with limited time for study to proceed?
Well, my guess is there are, at bottom, some common elements to all the advice. If we do not have exact agreement on eggs or how many steps per day, we do know some principles of a healthy diet and the value of exercise! Likewise, we can all agree on somethings even if prayer styles differ. And based on creation’s diversity, God has made a world full of multiple ways to “get it right” (or at least right enough!)?
SO what about prayer. I offer a few guidelines, but I think that each must choose his/her own way. I guess the best advice is trust God more and worry less about getting prayer perfect. I promise, it won’t be perfect (and I have wasted too much time worrying!).
1. Love God. Truly love God. Focus on who God is -- a loving Father, revealing Himself through Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer life is subservient to ‘love life’. Open your heart to the Triune God. If you do that, then your prayer will be awesome. If the life of the Lord fills you, my guess is things will be fine [Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be given to you.” If the Father is your King and you give yourself to His righteous/faithful rule, all will be well!”].
2. However you approach asking (specific, general, lists, personal, global), make sure you ask in faith. Ask with a trusting heart which is open to receive. If your approach is “repetitive, pounding on Heaven’s door;” then pray constantly with an awareness that God hears and graciously blesses. If you prefer “one and done” then repeat prayers of trust, praise and gratitude. Remember, this is not a technique to get God to do what you want. It is a discipline and practice to open yourself up to receive what He wants to give, has given, will give, and is giving. The barrier is never God, it is you (or the world, or the devil). However you personally approach Him, remember He always desires to bless!
3. Obviously it is you praying, you, not someone else. Certainly it is good to interact with others and it really is important to hear other people. We are all sinners in the process of becoming who God made us to be, none of us is finished and none of us knows it all. However, there needs to be congruence between our spirituality and our spirit! Clearly there are wrong ways to pray (sinfully, aligned against God’s will). Just as clearly, God’s will is broad enough for numerous modes of prayer. I like psalms because they demonstrate all manner of approaches (some of them not edifying). Pray from your soul (mind, heart, will, desire) and your spirit. Pray in congruence with your tradition (assuming it is a Christian way), too. You are part of a family. Pray as you pray, in the way that fits you. But always be open to growth. We are also changing, so let your prayer change and grow as well.
I think prayer should regularly include periods of time long enough to experience intimacy with God. It should also happen frequently enough that He is ever part of your daily life. So a significantly long (for some ten minutes may be long, others need an hour) prayer time and then short (a few seconds or a minute) prayers throughout the day is probably best for most of us. How you open yourself to that relationship (written prayers or your own, Bible verses or holy silence, saying His Name over and over or long monologues about everything) is your choice. He has already called you into fellowship. So just do it and trust He will lead you where that communing is deepest and most wonderful.