How to Pray When You Don’t Know How

It sounded like an easy assignment. “You’ll start the day by finding a room in the building by yourself. Then pray for an hour.” “No problem,” I thought. “Sit quietly and pray? No sweat.”

Turns out I did sweat. I had gone with other college students to Miami, Florida to be part of a Spiritual Life Internship conducted by a church located in Little Havana. The church wisely did not run their air conditioning in typically unused parts of the building. A number of us unwisely chose typically unused parts of the church building for our personal prayer spots.

The rooms were warm. The air was heavy. So were my eyelids. My mind was wandering. My head was bobbing. When a bell rang to signal the time to regroup in the meeting area I realized that I had snoozed more than supplicated.

In a moment of honesty, I reported how my time went. To my relief I was not alone. It was a common experience for our group. Blame it on muggy Miami or chalk it up to our inexperience. We discovered what we were expected to discover: we needed to learn to pray.

Might you feel that need too? We pray… at times.  When we need help we pray. When we get bad news we pray. When the doctor calls us in we pray. We may offer a prayer when we come over a rise in the road and see the Rockies. We may remember to say thanks when something good comes our way: a promotion, a birth, a new love.

We pray … at times. But wouldn’t you like to pray more? More often? More powerfully? More selflessly? For all the reasons we don’t pray more often, more often it is simply because we’re not sure how.

We aren’t alone. The first followers of Jesus needed help too. Before you think you can’t pray like Peter or Andrew, James or John, think again. Luke records that on one occasion “one of his disciples said to him ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” What he doesn’t record is any of the other disciples piping up and saying, “Yeah, he needs help. We’ve got this one. You teach him while we grab some figs and dates.” You won’t find any of the other disciples opting out of the lessons.

That is because prayer is a learned language. Go to Italy and it helps if you know some Italian. In the same way there is a language found in God’s kingdom: prayer. The disciples had watched Jesus’ prayer life and wanted theirs to match what they had seen in his. They had seen him pray before meals and powerful acts and important decisions. They had learned prayer was so vital to him he would disappear to pray.

It seemed Jesus did nothing without prayer. His disciples took notice. So when they asked for training he did not embark on a five-part webinar on “How to Pray.” When the disciples asked him to teach them to pray he simply gave them a simple prayer.

You may know it as The Lord’s Prayer. It is a skeleton of sorts that over time can hold more muscle and heart and lungs.

Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

That’s how Jesus said to pray. If you are a prayer novice, you can master this prayer. If you are a prayer warrior, you should not venture too far from this prayer. Prayer is the only thing we find the disciples specifically asking Jesus to teach them. And this is the prayer he gave.

It’s been a long time since that assignment in Miami. I still struggle with prayer at times. But I’ve gotten better. When I get distracted now I use this prayer. When I get sleepy now this one can be uttered quickly.

When you don’t know how to pray this one will help. Your Father wants to talk with you.

Let him teach you how.

Question: What keeps you from prayer?

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