Spiritual Practice

How To Learn How to Pray – Don’t Fret, Just Do It! – 11 Helps From Real Pray-ers.

How to say a prayer?
How to start a prayer?
How to learn how to pray?
Many times, I bet, we have done something that we were scared to try – but we did it! And it was good that we did.
We can do that with prayer, and I think we should.

How to learn how to pray? How did I learn?  Did I learn?how to learn how to pray

A woman in a church I pastored said to me “It’s good to know our church has a praying pastor.” How did she know I prayed regularly?  I don’t know, but she was right.

Where I am now in my praying …

In My Past – Using Prayer Lists:

Prayer has been part of my life over the years. I never talk about that fact per se (except now I guess), though I did preach and teach about prayer.

Much of the time over the years my approach  was processing lists of people or concerns. I was taught to do that. Seems I regarded myself as Dispatcher for God in my neck of the woods. Going down a list in my mind, sometimes tracking the lists in a notebook. Accounting I guess, apparently on God’s behalf. People have recommended that.

Now – Prayer Presence, and the Honesty of Ignorance or Incompetence:

Lately I’ve given up on that greatly overblown sense of personal directive responsibility and fussiness (god’s dispatcher, or harasser). See James Hollis below, “we do not know enough.” Now I practice more like a combination of presence and awareness – awareness of and presence to both god and my small and large environments  – maybe even you could say friendship, or sense of welcome or love – for god and for god’s world. It still fairly often includes mention of certain persons or issues of concern, but that’s not the core.

Prayer Fasts  – The Danger of Trying to Look Good (or Sound Good).

If we talked to other people like some of us talk to God, they would be offended. Would not a good and sensible God also be offended? We should be trying to grow the relationship, not numb it.
I’ve even had to do some prayer fasts – that is, not “fasting and prayer” but fasting FROM prayer –

Because I’d developed an  addicting tendency to pray INSTEAD OF think, pray INSTEAD OF look at the situations, pray INSTEAD OF be open, pray instead of connect, pray to actually avoid those things! Turns out it was often prayer-as-jabbering-blabbering.

So a prayer fast is not to avoid praying, but to avoid pretending to pray. Big difference.  At times that has required not praying at all. It seems God and I have an understanding about such times.

One day not praying is hard if one is used to jabbering all the time. A few days is good. You want to avoid sliding back into old motor-mouth habits. The idea is to learn to pray much more truly. If we talked to other people like some of us talk to God, they would be offended. Would not a good and sensible God also be offended?

We should be trying to grow the relationship, not numb it. You seriously damage real relationship when you try to use it to brag or show off, to God or anybody.  You’re bragging about your prayer life or your Biblical knowledge about prayer, and God is backing away.  Not good.

Necessary Prayer Issues / Requests / Crises:

There are “crunch times” or “crunch issues” in prayer of course. Stuff comes up that matters a great deal.  I can’t “handle” everything that comes up. But I can accept the “burden” of certain things.

It’s not that I get pushy with God – that idea seems silly, insulting.  But I do work on getting my emotional involvement clearly felt and if possible clearly expressed.  And that seems to require getting the facts of the case specified more or less thoroughly (which is sometimes possible, sometimes not) and to clarify what I see as the true Divine (Christic) values involved, which sometimes are pretty clear, sometimes come clear in the process.

The Danger of Over-Responsibility, Anxiety, Obsession:

For me it’s important to simply not become burdened by everything or everyone I care about.  God, I believe, desires our prayer involvement at a level that is not destructive to our emotional health nor warping of our relationship with the Divine.

Here is a good place to fit in Paul’s teaching that an appropriate prayer practice consistently avoids anxiety (by facing it head on in God’s presence), and brings peace, not the opposite. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Paul’s additional advice to pray without ceasing does not mean to be a motor-mouth in the Divine Presence. How wildly inappropriate! That’s nuts. Well then – how to pray without ceasing?  It is surely more along the lines of “don’t stop taking your vitamins”. That doesn’t mean every three minutes. But like vitamins or exercising or even showering, it’s a habit that changes your life. (I Thessalonians 5:17)

It’s fitting to wonder how to learn how to pray.

  • The first way is to just do it! Really. You can’t break anything. Suck it up and step in. God will be pleased!
  • But also, listen to good input from people with experience.

Here are some of my favorite prayer teachings from experienced pray-ers of the past.

These people are NOT talking about prayer as a religious activity, spiritual credit source, nor formal performances in prayer – not about special manipulative techniques (word-forumulas or styles of speech, names for God, postures, sequences, lists, etc).  They are talking about prayer as personal interaction – real-life, very honest, interpersonal connection to God, the Great Spirit, the Incarnation, the Great Mystery …

First a couple of non-Christian sources of great value – one an American atheist, one a Hindu God. Whether you like the sources or not, it’s clear they are speaking the truth.

There follow several quotes from persons in our Christian past (or links to posts here about them), including Jesus himself.

Non-Christian Sources:

James Hollis:

When we embrace the anxiety attendant upon our condition we open to the power of the divine. Ironically, the authority we seek is to be found only in the relinquishing of the fantasies of authority, to remember that we do not know enough. Through such humble openness the gods will most surely come.

This is a very important principle, and one that runs directly contrary to our natural (and natural religious) tendency to want to establish control, even over Divine reality.  I hope to write more about it soon. James Hollis is a well-respected Jungian therapist, author of many valuable books, and without formal religious commitments. [I’ve read 5 of his books, but this quote is from another writer who quoted him.]

Sri Krishna (Lord Krishna) from the Baghavat Gita:

I am the same to all beings. My love is the same always. Nevertheless the ones who meditate on me with devotion, they dwell in me and I shine forth in them. The worst sinners become saints when they love me with all their hearts. Such love will transform the personality and fill the heart with divine peace.

This is very similar to some teachings of Jesus and of Paul! Full love, full devotion, full attention – they yield life transformation (and maybe even certain good types of power in the world around us). I hope to write more about it soon. This is from a translation of the Gita by Eknath Easwaran.

Christian Sources:

Pope John Paul II

John Paul II: Private Prayer and the Dangers of Public Life
JP2 had lots of personal experience with both Nazis and Communists in Poland, from his youth on up. He was devoted to prayer and other spiritual practices even under great pressure and danger.

Social Activism and Spiritual Grounding

The quiet places in our lives make our public work safer

The Quiet Places in Our Lives Make Our Public Activity Much Safer
Healthy prayer changes US.  If we’re afraid of that, don’t want that, we won’t pray honestly. This is an important article.

Frank Laubach

 Face to Face With God – Your Words, Not Borrowed Ones (Frank Laubach)
Laubach was very effective at promoting literacy around the world, and he was certain his (very sensible) prayer practices were a significant contributor.

A Presidential Integrity Prayer

President Harry Truman’s Integrity Prayer
Here’s a prayer Truman adopted as a school boy and kept throughout his life.

Peter Taylor Forsyth

Prayer: An Excercise in Reality Therapy – Real You, Real God
… on the deception and avoidance that we carry with us into prayer.  We don’t need to hide.
The Soul of Prayer – Peter Taylor Forsyth on Spiritual Genius
A wonderful treasure chest of brilliant short insights into prayer.

John Wesley

Spiritual Tune-up: Sincerity in PRAYER
A brief but very clear statement. Should help alleviate fears about prayer. From the (unintentional) founder of Methodism.  This might answer how do you say a prayer?, even how to start a prayer.

Three from Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus Christ

1. “The Lord’s Prayer”, or “The Our Father” –  (Matthew 6)
How did Jesus say to pray?  Many of us know this by heart in one version or another – all quite similar. What stands out to me is the brevity, the breadth of coverage, and the simplicity of language. Jesus was well acquainted with the eloquent synagogue prayers of his day. They are beautiful. Many of his followers probably also knew them. But he did not offer those beautiful, formal prayers as examples. He spoke what we would call “plain English”. That’s really very comforting!

2. A Prayer About Intimacy, Beauty, and Spiritual Reality
Jesus’s prayer the night of his arrest, in John 17.  Much depth and realism. By example Jesus teaches us how to pray. Do the assignment 🙂

Jesus on “Some Who Were Confident of Their Own Righteousness.” Not pretty.
3. A very short story (“parable”) about two men who went to pray. Which one have you tried to be like?

Now, when we are asked how to learn how to pray, what should we say?
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See Also This Recent Post:
5 Helps to Realism and Comfort in Prayer
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