How do you pray?
“How do you pray?” she asked me. What she really meant, I think, was “How can I pray?”
Jesus heard that question from his disciples, and his response is what we now call The Lord’s Prayer. It is simultaneously a summary of His teachings for us, and a guide for how we can live as God’s people, and in constant relationship with our Savior and our Creator.
So we began our conversation there, by praying that prayer together. “But I feel like I’m just reciting words,” she mourned. And so our conversation continued. We talked about just pouring out every thought and feeling that is burdening you. We talked about giving thanks for all that is good in the world, even when we cannot name every single good thing that God continues to provide. And we talked about praying in silence, when we have no words to express the depths of our thoughts and feelings, when we just feel so lost and alone that we find it difficult to begin to express: in those moments no words are needed. The Holy Spirit prays with us, and God knows our very heart.
God, Creator of the Universe, Master of All, wants to listen to you, just plain, regular you! God invites us to pray, invites us into conversation. Even if you are angry, and just want to yell at God, God wants to hear that. God will listen and hear, and God will continue to listen and to love you.
More often, though, we begin our prayers to God by remembering who God is, and giving thanks to God, even though we cannot name every good thing that God has done and continues to do for us.
Still, my friend insisted, “tell me how you pray”. And so I told her. I begin with my hands and my eyes closed. I take a deep breath, and as I release it I open my hands. For me, this is my way of giving to God the worries and cares that I carry. As I release them, I leave my hands open, for I have no gift to bring or contribution to improve our conversation; I bring to God only myself, all that I am, all that God has given me. In no particular or formal words, I thank God for whatever comes to mind and acknowledge that I have become so accustomed to God’s bountiful blessings that I am overlooking many. I tell God whatever particularly concerns me at that time, and I pray for other people as specifically as I can. I pray for God to teach me and to help me to learn. Then I try to listen. As long as I can. At the end, I ask God to guide me in all that I say and do, that I may be open to His will and to the people with whom I interact; I ask God to help me to be who God dreams of me being, and I pray in the name of my savior, Jesus, on whom my life depends. As I say ‘Amen,” which means ‘yes, let it be so,’ I again take a deep breath, feeling filled with God’s presence. When there are times that I have no words to express what I want to, I sometimes choose a Bible verse, and Psalms has lots of good prayer verses. One that I like is Psalm 141: 1-5
I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Keeping God’s hand as a guard over what may come blurting out of my mouth has been a good prayer for me for years!
But your question is really how can you pray and know that God is listening, isn’t it? Take a deep breath. If you want to, open a Bible to the book of Psalms and read a few lines. Know that since the Word is alive in our reading of it, God is there with you. Respond to what you read; say or think about what you want God to know. God loves you, and is waiting to hear from you. Just take a deep breath and begin.