I couldn’t make the words make sense. I racked my brain trying to conjure another solution. She was crying and in obvious pain, but my long-forgotten Spanish failed to bridge the language barrier.
We clumsily communicated in single words and lots of “Ummm” and “How do you say…”
I made pictures with words and translations. I used my translator app. She gestured and pointed. We painstakingly figured out how to communicate with one another, even laughing at our misinterpretations.
When we talk to God, it can often feel this way. We are trying to express our love and desire to know him. We’ve heard others talk about their “prayer requests” and “praise reports”. The pastor stands in the front of the church and prays. Everyone and their mama says “Bless her heart. We’ll be praying for yall.”
But when it comes down to it, praying feels a bit like speaking a foreign language. It’s not a natural thing to do in the beginning, especially if you are nervous about what God may say back to you. I was talking about this with someone recently and they told me that they had been hesitant to really pray more than a quick “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub!” because they were scared a thundering voice would come booming through the living room!
If only He would shout at us now and then!
When I first began talking to God, I was given a piece of advice that I have since shared with lots of new Christians. Talk to God like you’re writing a letter. I know most of us don’t hand write letters anymore, or even email for that matter, but you get the concept.
A typical letter consists of a greeting, the body, and the closing. So, that’s how I learned to talk to God. I would start with “Dear God”, then proceed to tell him about my day, the things I was thinking about, and things I had seen throughout the day. Then I would end with “in Jesus’ name I pray, amen”.
It took me a long time to figure out how to pray for my wants/needs, as well as those of others. In the beginning, I would find myself saying things like “Ok God, if you have time, and I don’t want you to have to go out of your way, because I know you’re probably busy with other people, but I could really use some help in this thing, but again, only if you have time”. This is really funny to me now, looking back and seeing how far I’ve come in my relationship with Christ.
But don’t we do this in new relationships anyway? If you ask your new friend to go do something with you, don’t you cushion the potential rejection with “but if you have other plans, no problem” at the end of your text invite?
Luckily, God knows we’re all awkward and don’t know how to put anyone above ourselves when we’re first starting out. In fact, the more people I speak with, the more I feel like we ourselves are our biggest hinderance. We may say we are waiting for a booming voice from God, but more than that, we don’t want to be left alone with the booming voice of ourselves. No one has worse things to say or reminds you of your shortcomings like yourself.
The devil knows this, too. He likes to feed us little scripts that read like the sentences we are already writing about ourselves. We take them in as truth, even though the things he says are lies. When we pray in bed at night, we can quickly find ourselves beginning with “Dear God” but then letting our minds wander to all of the worst-case scenarios and calling it a prayer.
So, how do we learn to pray? Jesus knew we needed some guidance, so he demonstrated with the Lord’s prayer. Down here in the south, reciting this prayer has become such a habit before football games and during times of congregational prayer, I think it’s easy to forget that this is actually a prayer.
Jesus first acknowledges the glory of God the father. Then he seeks to complete God’s will while here on earth. He asks for his daily needs to be met. He goes on to ask for his sins to be forgiven (of which he personally had none) and to forgive those who have wronged him. Next he asks for protection and not to be led astray. He then ends with acknowledging the power that comes from the resurrected Christ.
This example is laid out for us to emulate, plugging in our own desires to know and serve him while seeking direction for our lives. Your prayers may feel silly and one-sided, but you want to know the good news?
God already knows your heart. He knows what you’re struggling with. He knows your hurt. He knows the thoughts that infiltrate your mind while you’re desperately trying to push them out and focus on your prayer time. So even if you feel like your words are falling short, even if the only thing you can think to say is “Jesus”, even if you need to start by just repeating “Now I lay me down to sleep”…God sees you. He knows that your tears are unspoken prayers. He loves that you are making the effort to spend time at his feet.
The whole point in praying is communication with God. We as humans are made for relationship. Albeit, we have a difficult time differentiating which relationships are beneficial and which ones are toxic sometimes. But God himself lives in relationship within the trinity. Therefore, we know his goal for us is to have this personal connection to him. And we achieve that through prayer and spending time meditating on his word.
I’ve talked about this before, but in order to do this and get the most out of your time in prayer, it is essential to create opportunities to encounter God. If you’re like me, trying to have intentional prayer before I go to bed is not going to cut it. By the time I slow down and get into bed at the end of a busy day, I am inevitably going to be tired and fall asleep. Some of you night owls will beg to differ and are hitting your stride around the time I’m hitting the pillow.
For me, the best time to seek and see God is first thing in the morning. When my alarm sounds, I start my day talking to God. Throughout my routine of getting ready, I’m listening to songs and worshipping through praise or listening to a sermon. It is so important for me to get my mind right before all of the day’s distractions and duties start pulling me away.
And you all know that my car serves as my prayer closet. my commute is my uninterrupted time to pray to god, thanking him for the beautiful sunrise and to reflect on his goodness. I sing off-key songs in praise and ask for protection for my patients. I ask god to show me areas I can improve upon and ways I can better serve him. I seek his forgiveness.
I have added another element to my prayer recently. That of intercession. My heart is so heavy with the thought of those who do not know Jesus and who still haven’t surrendered themselves to him. And for a long time, I felt like it was up to me alone to show them the way. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. Thankfully, I have some strong spiritual sisters and mothers who are showing me that sometimes, the best offering we can provide is intercession. This process of praying for others and standing in the gap allows me to seek the face of god for those I feel I am unable to get through to. And yall, god meets me right there in the middle and says, “I’ll take it from here”.
You don’t have to have the right words. You don’t need to have grown up in church. You don’t have to like the songs I put on here or the ones your grandmother hums in the kitchen. You don’t have to raise your hands or stomp your feet. You just need to start. And if you don’t have anything to say, just be still.
Your words will not be lost in translation. God will reveal himself to you, one word at a time.
“In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
1 Timothy 2: 1-6 “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
1 John 5:14 “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
1 John 5:16 “If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that.”
2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Ephesians 6:18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
James 5:13 ” Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.”
Romans 8:26 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”