How to Pray

It is easy to be intimidated out of praying. In the company of others, we feel that our words are somehow inadequate, our thoughts too simplistic, or our speech fumbling. "We could never pray like that," we consider. Even when we sit to pray alone, we find their eloquent words intimidating us out of praying, thinking that our halting expressions somehow diminish the value of our prayers.

In the same way, when taking time to pray alone, we often find such moments nabbed out of the corner of a hurried day: the pressures of work, the time demands of our family, and the many thoughts echoing through our hurried minds interrupt the search for some moments of solitude. We imagine prayer to be much more focussed - more irenic, the confusion and chaos of our own minds accusing and denying us the right to pray.

All this so familiar to me. Prayer seems to be squeezed into a busy day, and then the busyness squeezes me out of prayer. How can one truly pray?

It was Dom Chapman who adjured us to "pray as you can, not as you can't". Though we fail to find the ideal heart and setting to pray, we are not barred from prayer by such imperfection. There is a sense that we are putting the cart before the horse when we search for the ideal setting for prayer before praying. It is through prayer that we find the order in our chaotic lives, that peace is able to penetrate the ructions and find its own place. Prayer is not about being in control but about surrendering control to God. Prayer is intentional incompetence, in which we place ourselves in God's hands.

To a greater or lesser degree we all speak of the value of prayer. Yet our struggles to truly pray, and the inner battle to remain in prayer underline our sense of inadequacy in prayer. We want to pray, but can't. We yearn to pray, but run from it. Our motives are often mixed - often selfish, indulgent, at times bitter, whilst at the same time being generous, self-disciplined, loving.

But we are invited ... like children ... to come to the Father. What is important is that we come. For it is only when we are there that the work of God is enabled.

We need to simply pray and to pray simply. Ordinary people praying ordinary concerns to a concerned and loving Father.

Ultimately, we can pray no other way.

July 8, 2001
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