I don't like to pray.
There, I said it.
At least, I don't like to pray in the traditional sense of the word. It's not that I don't have anything to say - I'm fairly outspoken and opinionated for an introvert - it's that I only like to talk under certain circumstances. My examples of prayer as a kid were all about what the person praying had to say, and I got those examples from three very different traditions. My home church was liturgical, so the person praying at the front was often following a script or using "King James English" that I found hard to understand as a child. The summer camp where I learned about Jesus was in the Holiness tradition, so prayer often involved "laying on hands" and people crying out to God in what just seemed like wails. The kids in my school were primarily Southern Baptist and their prayers often seemed like random sentences sprinkled with the words "just" and "Lord."
So, in retrospect, it's easy to see where my dislike for prayer came in. Being raised by mental health professionals, like I was, teaches you that your role in a conversation is just as much to listen as it is to speak. So when I was learning about prayer, and learning that it was about having a conversation with God, I never felt comfortable because it felt like I was the only person saying anything.
As I've gotten older, I've had my perceptions of prayer challenged. If what I experienced as a kid was prayer, I always felt like it wasn't anything that could benefit me. It wasn't until I started to really take time to focus in on spiritual disciplines that I understood that prayer was just as much about listening as it was about speaking. As someone who deals with ADHD, it's often hard to sit still and quiet and "listen." So I've had to provide myself with some resources:
- Written Prayers
It's not cheating. It's not insincere. It's a real thing that you can use to grow closer to God. You don't have to reinvent the wheel; written prayers are a powerful tool to enhance your prayer life. Some of my favorite resources for pre-written prayer are The Book of Common Prayer, from the Episcopal Church, and Shane Claiborne's Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. The thing I enjoy about them, especially the one from Claiborne, is that they offer a series of prayers for a particular day of the year. It's different then a daily devotional because it's written to help you have a conversation with God, not just obtain a deeper level of knowledge.
Equally as powerful for people like myself who like to write is writing down your own prayers in a journal or on your computer. This can be a great way to clear your head when things feel crazy. I'm a sucker for a good pen and a Field Notes notebook, personally.
I was praying with music before I ever realized I was doing it. As a musician, I find that my most intimate moments with God are when I sit down behind the piano without an agenda and start to play. That's obviously not the answer for everyone, but it's a powerful one for me. For non-musicians, good worship music can help you guide and focus your prayers and help you feel comfortable speaking less and listening more.
- Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina is Latin for "divine reading," and describes an ancient monastic practice of using Scripture to guide our prayers. Again, it's about speaking less and listening more. This is one of the earliest forms of Christian prayer, and the Upper Room describes the process like this: (click over to read more)
- Read the scripture slowly. Watch for a key phrase or word that jumps out at you or promises to have special meaning for you. It is better to dwell profoundly on one word or phrase than to skim the surface of several chapters. Read with your own life and choices in mind.
- Reflect on a word or phrase. Let the special word or phrase that you discovered in the first phase sink into your heart. Bring mind, will and emotions to the task. Be like Mary, Jesus’ mother, who heard of the angel’s announcement and “treasured” and “pondered” what she had heard (Luke 2:19).
- Respond to what you have read. Form a prayer that expresses your response to the idea, then “pray it back to God.” What you have read is woven through what you tell God.
- Rest in God’s word. Let the text soak into your deepest being, savoring an encounter with God and truth. When ready, move toward the moment in which you ask God to show you how to live out what you have experienced.
Just do it.
There are so many different ways to pray, and many different resources to help you out. Even if you're like me and you don't like to pray in the way you've seen it done before, be wiling to step out and try something new. You can find an unexpected level of comfort and support when you just look around and see what's out there.
As our nation feels increasingly divided and in turmoil, I've found comfort in a written prayer from the United Methodist Book of Worship. It's attributed to the Church of Pakistan, and is a good example of enhancing your prayer life with the words of others. Remember, you don't always have to reinvent the wheel.
Look graciously, O Lord, upon this land.
Where it is in pride, subdue it.
Where it is in need, supply it.
Where it is in error, rectify it.
Where it is in default, restore it.
And where it holds to that which is just and compassionate, support it.
Matt Dailey serves as Worship Director at Navarre UMC, and has been at the church since 2013. When he's not leading worship and designing graphics, he enjoys baseball, comic books and team trivia (his team is nationally ranked. #micdrop). Read more about Matt here.