Prayer for Dummies

Yeah, somebody actually wrote the book...

As a pastor, I hear a lot of people say that they don't know how to pray.  Sometimes you hear it when people are asked to pray out loud (is that a Baptist thing that people from other denominations don't have to worry about?).  In this case, I can only assume that prayer is seen as oratory; an exercise of public speaking.  If that's the case, then the hesitation makes sense because public speaking is said to be one of the top fears of humans. Other times you hear people bemoan their inability to pray in reference to life pain and struggles, stating something about not knowing how to address God, not wanting to address God, or not being able to find the right words.  Again, prayer is seen as something that does not come naturally and requires skill or training.

Interestingly, prayer remains a more popular idea than God.  There are people who don't have any belief in God but believe in the power of prayer and/or meditation.  Even more interestingly, you can find apathy towards prayer among both believers and non-believers.  In these cases, I assume, prayer is seen as being just as childish as writing a letter to Santa Claus.  Something isn't prayer, so the thinking goes, unless you are in a particular physical position, consciously directing your prayers "upward," and begin the thought with "Dear God" or something of the sort.  To some (including me), it all seems pretentious and amateur.

Why does prayer have to have boundaries?  Why does it have to have a start and end point?  Why does it have to be something profound within itself rather than something that recognizes the profundity and validity of our more natural expressions?

As far as I'm concerned, if you have ever......
  • said or thought, "How am I going to get through this?"
  • desperately wanted peace or revenge
  • wondered why God feels absent
  • said or thought, "What does this mean?"
  • put your emotions into a song, a poem, a journal, or a piece of art
  • pounded your fist in anger, cried in sorrow, or leapt for joy
  • said, "Why does this day have to end?" or "Why can't this day be over?"
  • felt thankful
  • longed for the past or worried about the future
  • wished for something or someone you didn't have
......you have prayed.

"Everybody prays whether [you think] of it as praying or not. The odd silence you fall into when something very beautiful is happening or something very good or very bad. The ah-h-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of you as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the sky-rocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else s pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else's joy. Whatever words or sounds you use for sighing with over your own life. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to yourself but to something even more familiar than yourself and even more strange than the world."  -Frederick Buechner

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