Prayer can be made difficult when we have not thought through how our time with God will be spent, resulting in the question, “What should I pray about?”
Extemporaneous prayers have their place and, over time, we can become better. But spending a few moments in reflection and thought may serve us better. I envision this time in the following four phases.
1. Having an awareness of God’s presence, knowing that His presence brings the fullness of all that He is. In Hebrews 11:6 the writer states, “for he who comes to God must believe that He is.” (NASB) Not only “is” in terms of existence, but is present, is aware of our existence, is willing to aid and is able to help us. Not only should we have an awareness of Him, but also an awareness of ourselves under His watchful gaze.
2. An acknowledgment of His faithfulness. Acknowledge the blessings that we have received: blessings of life, health, strength, family, friends, His protection over our lives, His provision for us and that all of this was done without our having to qualify for it. Before presenting any list of requests, shouldn’t we acknowledge what we have and give thanks?
3. An admittance of our imperfection, reflecting over areas in which we can do and be better.
4. Finally, we make a plea for His continued graciousness regarding our concerns.
To finish, and with all faith, believing that we have been heard, we say, “Amen.”
— E. Steven Richardson, pastor, 17th Street Missionary Baptist Church, Anniston.
Beyond the ‘wishlist’
Sometimes we don’t know how to pray because we’re overwhelmed. We may want something — a job, healing from cancer, a peaceful home — but our wants can turn our prayer lives into a recitation of a wish list. That “wish list” style of prayer isn’t very fulfilling. It’s all about me and my wants, but rarely about the greatness of God and creation.
But when I stand in the need of prayer, I’m sometimes so overcome with emotion that I can’t think of anything else. That’s when I turn to the tradition of written prayer, which helps me to find words when my heart is overwhelmed.
The disciples once asked, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus gave them a short, heartfelt prayer of praise and penitence and beseeching. I use that prayer daily, in addition to my other meditations and “wish lists.” I use this and other prayers from the Bible, my devotional books and, especially, my Book of Common Prayer.
When I worry too much about what I ought to pray about or what words would most please God, I am losing touch with the true purpose of prayer. Sometimes, the tried-and-true words of Scripture and our long spiritual tradition can roll off my tongue, freeing my mind and spirit to make room for the Holy Spirit.
Like Jesus, I try to find a quiet place away from the crowds to meditate on the Word and to remember how he taught us to pray.
— The Rev. Michael G. Rich, rector, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville.
How to submit a question
Have a question to pose to our panel of local faith leaders? Send it to “Religion Roundtable,” Lisa Davis, Features Editor, The Anniston Star, P.O. Box 189, Anniston AL 36202. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.