I know that people stress out over prayer. They hear the beautifully articulated public prayer of an old saint and feel that their prayers fall far short. I remember feeling that way. Whether it was the prayers of a great-uncle that literally prayed around the world when he was asked to bless the meal for a family gathering. Or the wonderfully crafted prayers of any of a number of pastors and leaders. In comparison, my prayers felt flat and short.
Here’s what I learned. Prayer is as natural as breathing. Think about it for a moment. What is the first thing that a baby does after being born? They breathe. Before they make the welcome sound of a baby’s cry they have to breathe. When it comes to our spiritual rebirth in Christ – prayer is like a baby’s breath. The first thing we do is pray. Probably short, most likely stumbling over the words and feeling a little uncertain and self-aware, but it is still prayer.
Somewhere along the way, we begin to compare our prayers with others. We fail to realize that a) there is a big difference between public out-loud prayers and our private communion with God. b) That those we are comparing ourselves to have had years of practice. It’s like comparing the speech of a kindergartener with that of a college professor. What is important to God is not the perfection of our speech, the fulfillment of a pattern, or the amount of time our prayers consume. His primary desire is to have open, honest, and heartfelt communion with one of His children, with you.
Consider this parable from Jesus: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10–14, NASB95) This parable gives us the first clue at what meaningful and effective prayer sounds and feels like. The difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector was their humbleness before God. Since prayer is all about relationship having that relationship right is the first key. God is God, we are people. He is Lord, we are His servants. He is our creator, we are His creation. But that is the cool and exciting part, God invites us to dine with Him at the table of prayer. It’s as natural as breathing.