This may seem like an unlikely title for a blog post, but it’s surprising how many people ask the question. While it may seem that prayer is something that comes naturally, very often it’s not.
When we were children we were taught different prayers, we learned to recite the Our Father, pray the Rosary, make the sign of the cross and say our bedtime prayers. We did so without question and very often without understanding.
The truth is, we’re always a single word away from prayer. “Help”, “Please”, “Thank you”. These are all prayers when addressed to God.
In essence, praying is a conversation between you and God. It is not a monologue, it is not merely a list of requests, it is not just a recitation of words learned in our childhood. A conversation requires dialogue, and the most important skill of any dialogue is listening. It’s no different when we speak to God. This is the part that most people struggle with, the listening.
Of course, God rarely speaks out loud as is described in the Old Testament, but the voice of God can be heard in the silence of our minds and hearts if we are quiet enough. That means we need to shut out the distractions of the world, put our phones on silent for a little while.
Our relationship with God is one to be cultivated, and as with our earthly relationships, if we neglect it, the first casualty is communication. Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Sacred Rhythms says that prayer is “all the ways in which we communicate and commune with God” and that the fundamental purpose of prayer is to deepen our intimacy with God. For Jesus, prayer was his constant connection with God and it was a central part of His life.
When we pray then, we need to listen. We need to really tune in to the quiet and pray without expectation of how God will answer and what God will say.
How many times do you begin a conversation with your spouse, your child, your friend, your boss, with the end in mind? You may be asking for advice, or sharing some news, and you already have a preconceived idea of what you want the answer or response to be. When that response is something different to the story you’ve told yourself in your own mind, you’re disappointed and you feel unheard and unsupported.
Is it the same with your prayer life? Do you feel unheard and unsupported because you have a story in your head, an expectation, of how you want God to respond?
It’s tempting to embellish the story: God’s not listening, God’s ignoring us. You double up on your efforts, begging for an answer, a response, all the while not stopping to listen.
The gift and the joy of prayer is that God always answers. God knows our inner being, the secrets of our heart. There is always an answer, but we need to listen, without pre-empting what it will be.
How to pray then becomes how to build a relationship and enter into deep conversation with God. How to know God, walk with God and grow in our relationship with God.
The Bible tells us that the disciples also found prayer hard, and they came to Jesus and asked him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11).
Jesus responded by giving them the Lord’s prayer, to help them grow in their prayer life and relationship with God. This is a guide for us too, teaching us how to pray and connect with God.
The following acronym used by Pete Greig can help us to grow in prayer.
P – Pause
R – Rejoice
A – Ask
Y – Yield
Each of these is essential when we pray.
- We pause and reflect on our Higher Power. We pause and reflect on where we are and what we are doing. We pause and ground ourselves in the presence of God.
- We rejoice in the presence of God and all that has been offered for us. We rejoice that we are loved and held and comforted and guided by the Word.
- We ask the questions that are on our heart. We ask for what we need. We ask for God’s will in our lives.
- We yield to the will of God. We surrender to God’s love. We trust that the answer will come.
In all the pausing, rejoicing, asking and yielding, we LISTEN.