Ah prayer, that thing we like to pretend that we do a lot more than we actually do.
In most of the morning prayer liturgies (routines) I use, there’s a part I have started to dread. So much so, that I think it has sub-consciously put me off using the liturgies altogether. This is often replaced with a few desperate, muttered prayers during the sprint to get to work on time.
Recently at a motorcycle rally, a stall vendor remarked that they appreciated my easy-going and slightly sarcastic approach to talking about faith. I replied, “That’s ok, I’m a professional”. In my experience, even people involved in pastoral work and Christian leadership struggle with regular prayer.
The difficult bit in the liturgy which I mentioned is ‘Prayer for Others’. I don’t struggle with this just because I’m totally self-obsessed, but because I find it genuinely difficult at the moment. In my work and life I’m often confronted by dramatic situations and tragedy. I’m talking real life and death stuff. I think at least 6 people I know and care about have died this year. Others have lives affected by addiction, mental illness, abusive relationships and all kinds of other problems.
So I sit down for morning prayer. I’ve lit my incense, repeated a breath prayer, read a Psalm and bits of Old and New Testament, and I’m feeling all zen. But when I see those three words on the paper (or my iPhone screen when parenthood and procrastination have made me late for work), I stop feeling zen and start feeling anxious, sick, distracted. I want to do anything else but pray. I know that if I let my mind wander towards the many people and situations I have to worry about, that I will stop feeling at peace and close to God, and start agonising instead.
This morning (being Friday) I thought it was about time I had a decent time of prayer, something which has escaped me this week. Before I read the three dreaded words, I came to the New Testament reading. In Matthew 6:7-13 Jesus teaches his followers how to pray. He teaches that we shouldn’t babble on, expecting our prayers to be heard because they are long. Anyone who has met me (or read this blog) will know brevity is not my strong suit.
But the words took on a different meaning for me this morning. I realised that instead of agonising over stuff, and trying to find the right words, all I needed to do was bring the situations and people to God. Just bring them, and leave them with Him. I am not in control, I have to trust. Once I brought them, I moved on. Very different to the usual drawn out time of anxious prayer, like a really depressing shopping-list. I even had enough time left to sit silently in His presence before beginning my work day. Oh how I cherish the silence and stillness in this life of busyness and noise.
Prayer is a hard thing to define, and one of the joys of the Christian faith is that there is a lot of creative room pray in your own way, whether alone or with others. For me, I’m having to learn to give stuff away, sit with open palms facing heaven, and let God lift it out of my hands. Here, there is peace. Still pain, but peace.
Are you finding it hard to pray because there is too much on your mind? Is there anything you have found helpful? Let me know in the comments below.
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:7-8 (NRSV)
“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)
Here are some helpful prayer liturgies available on-line, in books or as mobile apps:
In memory of Kars, another brother gone to ride heaven’s highways. GBNF