October 19, 2014

How to Pray Correctly

A few weeks ago, I was house-sitting for some friends in a different city and ended up at a bookstore where Max Lucado was giving a talk. There was a time when he was quite an influence in my life. I grew up reading his devotional books and I even had a Max Lucado study bible. Needless to say when I stumbled upon him in the flesh at Barnes and Noble, I stopped to listen.

He spoke about his latest book, Before Amen and how he views himself as a 'recovering prayer wimp.' I enjoyed hearing him share for a few minutes, but I found myself looking around and what struck me is how many other people had stopped to listen too. I watched them hang on his every word, most looking very attentive.

For people who believe in God and seek any kind of connection with Him, I guess we're all somewhere along the journey of finding the answer to the question: how to pray. 

I was taught to pray at a young age. First by the example of my family members, and then by Sunday School teachers at my church. I was told to bow my head and close my eyes. Bedtime prayers were learned. We prayed before meals too.

One well-meaning church teacher made a big poster and hung it in our Sunday School class as a reminder of the order of things when it came to praying.

Down the left side of the poster were the letters P,R,A, and Y. Each letter stood for a word that took us through the prayer process.


As an oldest child with a strong desire to please, I thought this was great! Steps to follow for correct prayer? Yes, please. I would strive to get the order right each time. Start out by praising God. Then, time to ask for His forgiveness. Next, and only after those first two crucial steps could I make my requests known. Finally, yield....one I never really understood in the context, but still attempted each time I prayed.

But then as I got older, I started to question things.

How much praise is enough before I can move on to repenting? 
What if I forget to repent for something before I ask? 
Will my requests be answered if and only if I find the perfect combination of praise and repentance? 
What if I think of something else to repent about while I'm yielding? Do I have to start the entire process over again? 

I worried that I wasn't praying the right way. Then I got stressed out about it. I'd end up not wanting to pray at all for fear of the damage it might cause in not doing it correctly.

Then I went through a whole phase where I thought God was probably mad at me because I hadn't prayed in a long time. So I went even longer without talking to God.

Can you relate?

I don't know what changed exactly or what I learned, but one day I realized it didn't have to be that way anymore. I felt in my heart that the "God stuff" is more about the relationship we have than me getting anything right.

So, in essence, even asking the question "how to pray correctly" is unnecessary.

Think about it like this. Have you ever thought about the correct way to talk to your best friend?

Do you have protocol for when they answer your telephone call? Of course not. You probably don't say "hi, this is so-and-so speaking."

When I call my best friend, sometimes I say "hey, it's me." Or sometimes I start off the conversation by saying "OMG you will not believe this!" Sometimes I don't even call...I just send a quick text. And I don't start it out by saying "Oh my most precious dear friend so-and-so, please allow me to share my feelings about the day."

When you have a closeness with somebody, none of that stuff is required.

Sometimes the only communication between friends is a shared BuzzFeed quiz on Facebook that you know he will think is hilarious. And that's all he needed to know exactly what the message was meant to be.

And this is exactly how it can be with God. A prayer can be a long beautiful love letter written in your best handwriting. Or it can be a single word yelled in anger. We don't have to hold anything back from God. He can take it.

Sometimes a prayer is nothing more or less than a breath.

There's no correct way to pray. As long as what you're saying or feeling is true.

There's a lot I don't understand. But I know God wants to hear from us. Don't get hung up on whether you're doing it right. Just do it. You won't be sorry.