Let me start with a frank admission: Prayer is difficult for me. Some things come easily, but prayer is not one of them. Of course, this does not make prayer optional in the least. It simply means I have to work harder at it to be consistent and effective.
I suspect many other Christians struggle with prayer, too. Maybe you would include yourself in that group. If so, these thoughts on prayer might be helpful to you.
Here is one observation that has helped improve my own prayer life: Prayer is harder when it’s rambling. It’s harder for the person praying, and it’s harder for those listening during group prayer.
One of my frustrations when praying with others is that Christians often don’t pray intelligibly. We tell young Christians who are unaccustomed to prayer to simply talk normally when speaking to God. “Prayer is conversation,” we say. And it is.
That is what we tell them, but that is often not what we do when we pray with them. When it comes to talking with God, our normal way of speaking frequently goes out the window.
We lace our prayers with contrived Christian mumbo jumbo (some have called it “Christian psycho-babble”). We insert useless words like “just” in virtually every phrase. Then we use the words “Lord,” “Father,” and “Jesus” as if they were punctuation marks. In short, we talk to God in ways we wouldn’t think of addressing any other intelligent individual.
This habit is hard to break. I know from personal experience. But I have a solution that has helped me trim down the nonsense. I have instructed our staff at STR that when we meet for prayer, we pray according to the acronym SIP: specifically, intelligibly, and persuasively.
I take this cue from the prayers in the Bible—Daniel 9:3–19, for example. Biblical prayers have content, clarity, and power. There is no spiritual blather. In many cases, they include reasons why God should act, as if the person praying were persuading him of something he wouldn’t do apart from their entreaty. Sometimes the reasons are based on the need. Other times they are based on God’s character or what might happen to his reputation if he ignored the request—a move Moses used frequently.
These are the things you would normally—and quite naturally—include if you were speaking to someone of importance, making a request for help or provision. You’d explain your need, why you need it, and why your request should be granted.
We can do the same with God. We should pray intelligibly, in full sentences, with complete thoughts. Our prayers should include clear, specific requests and straightforward, genuine expressions of feeling and gratitude. We should also give reasons why God ought to respond to our appeals.
Some people find that occasionally writing their prayers out is helpful. It forces them to put more clarity and substance into their entreaties.
I hope you did not skim over the phrase “I have instructed our staff at STR….” Since I am the spiritual head of Stand to Reason, this is one of the ways I seek to mentor those on our team. This may apply to you, too.
I have often wondered why those who train leaders in their youth group (for example) apparently never taught them how to pray in public. The ones who lead prayer for the group or during worship are examples to the rest. If they model good prayer habits, others will likely follow their lead. But the same works in reverse, too.
So, if you have spiritual leadership responsibilities of any sort—with your family, your church, or your study group—you may want to do two things in response to what I’ve said here.
First, apply the SIP principle to your own prayer life. Train yourself to pray specifically, intelligibly, and persuasively. Even if prayer is not as difficult for you as it is for me, I think you’ll find that this practice will help your prayers be more powerful and fulfilling.
Second, instruct those in your spiritual charge how to pray “conversationally.” Then, model it for them when you pray together. There’s no need to be pious; just be clear and genuine. In this way, you’ll not only be improving your own vital interactions with God, but you’ll be helping those around you, too.