You're Probably Overthinking Your Prayer Life
Here's how to simplify it.
For much of my life, my prayers have been marked by anything but simplicity. Formulas, prescriptions and certain postures complicated and cluttered my attempts.
My “prayer life” was too often an attempt to string emotionally charged words and phrases together in order to communicate clearly my feelings to God. I was convinced that if I could find the right words that moved my own heart (either to remorse or thankfulness), somehow God would likewise be moved by my eloquence and respond. Because of this, I found myself speaking to God as if He needed to be persuaded to listen to me.
In the end, my prayer felt more like pleading with a disgruntled DMV worker than communicating with my loving Father.
The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for it.
This is your Father you are dealing with, and He knows better than you what you need. If I have learned anything over the last several years, it’s that Christ bids us to pray very, very simply. In asking Jesus to model the type prayer God longs for, Jesus instructs his disciples (both past and current) with these practical words Matthew 6:9-13, MSG:
Our Father in heaven
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
“The Lord’s Prayer” is known for its semantic wonder. And the words themselves are beautiful. But what if, in focusing on the words, we have missed the point? I find it interesting that in teaching His disciples how to pray, Jesus models for them a 30-second prayer. It’s as if Jesus was more interested in the simplicity of the prayer than its semantics. The language Jesus uses is ordinary. The sentences He strings together are so simple they are childlike.
And somehow, when we pray, this is how we are to do so—simply.
The reason we can pray simply, according to Jesus, is not because God is in a hurry. It’s not because He knew we’d be so busy leading that we have to pray in short, quick sentences. No, Jesus instructs us to pray in a simple childlike manner because God is our Father.
And as our Father, He already knows what you and I need, when we need it. If this is true, how could we not pray simply? Therefore, prayer is more about who we are praying to than what we are saying. It’s about trusting in who God is rather than trying to convince God with our many words. This is precisely what Jesus says in the verses leading up to the Lord’s Prayer.
Because we are united to Christ, prayer should be the simplest and most effortless thing we do. Wherever we are, whatever we do, Christ is present. Prayer, then, is the process by which we awaken to, acknowledge and abide in Christ’s presence in us—and our never-ending presence in Him. Our ability to freely and easily commune with Christ and abide in His presence is one of the most freeing aspects of our union with Christ.
Back when our second son, Cole, was learning how to walk, I was sitting in the living room early one morning (attempting) to pray. I was stumbling over my words, upset at myself for having such a hard time, when all of a sudden I heard the pitter-patter of little feet sprinting in the darkness down the hall. Cole had somehow climbed out of his crib and was peeking at me from around the corner. I smiled and acknowledged his presence while motioning for him to climb onto my lap.
As we sat together in the dark, Cole’s attention turned toward my bagel, sitting on the coffee table in front of me. Without saying a word, Cole pointed to the bagel, then pointed to his open mouth. Nothing else needed to be “said.” I knew exactly what my son wanted. I nodded playfully, leaned over and handed Cole my bagel. He chuckled, laid back in my arms and took a bite. That’s the type of prayer God longs for; that is simple prayer.
While I have a deep appreciation for beautifully worded prayers (and share in them on occasion), I’m convinced that the prayer the Father longs for is one of childlike simplicity flowing from a heart of confidence and trust in the One who knows us better and more intimately than we know ourselves.
Therefore, pray simply.