Someone once told me that a good conversation is like a game of tennis. First you speak, and then the other person returns something back to show they are interested, and on and on it goes. Game. Set. Match.
I am terrible at actual tennis, but pretty good at conversation.
Until it comes to prayer.
Someone also once told me that “Prayer is simply talking to God.” That sounds easy enough, until I show up to my prayer times with my ball and my racquet.
I try to be so diligent in prayer to “Get it right.” I try to let God speak first. And then when it’s my turn, I try to pray about something and then realize, “Oops, I forgot to praise God first. That was probably offensive.” So I offer up some praise, and then start to pray for things feeling guilty that I haven’t let God talk in awhile.
And eventually my mind wanders over what I need to do that day, or something I am worried about. Maybe something about the church or my family.
Oops! Time to let God talk again…And eventually my prayer time ends with me feeling disappointed.
As I read Chapter 3 of Paul Miller’s A Praying Life, I realize that I am not alone.
I love what he says on page 19, “The difficulty of coming just as we are is that we are messy. And prayer makes it worse. When we slow down to pray, we are immediately confronted with how unspiritual we are, and how difficult it is to concentrate on God….Nothing exposes our selfishness and spiritual powerlessness like prayer.”
Jesus doesn’t say, “Come to me, all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.”
No. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden…”
Often we feel too tired and messy to pray, when the only criteria for coming to God in prayer is being weary, heavy laden and messy.
Jesus wants to be like children who don’t care if they are messy before their Father, they just ask for stuff anyway.
Paul Miller points out that, “Our minds will always wander toward where we are weary.”
So rather than just push down all our wandering thoughts, we can and should talk to God about those very things! That makes it more like a relationship and less like a game of tennis.
Prayer is one area of life where it is good to not feel like you know what you are doing. The idea of being “good at prayer” would most likely baffle any little child who knows how to pray. They don’t worry if they are good enough to pray, all they know is that there is this one thing that they want to see happen and they are powerless to change it. And so that thing is their prayer request.
My first grader, Chloe’s, prayer request last week was, “Please don’t let it snow and ruin our family Easter egg hunt!” That is what threatened to keep her up at night so she wanted to talk to God about it. By the time she was praying, the weather patterns were already set in motion. God could have stopped it, but he gave my wife a sudden idea to have our egg hunt on Saturday when it was 70 degrees and sunny and dye Easter eggs on Sunday when it was snowing outside.
I tried to play tennis with Chloe a few months ago. She was terrible at it. She could barely hold the racquet.
But she is pretty amazing at prayer.