Prayer – the long and the short of it
Prayer can be the most natural thing in the world as we reach out to God… But it can also feel like an impossible thing to do and we might not have a clue where and how to start.
Prayer sometimes comes spontaneously – a quick prayer for help in an emergency, when something lovely has happened in our lives, or when we want to say thank you to God in the face of beauty or wonder, a prayer for forgiveness or even to express our awe and adoration.
Growing in prayer is related in part to a greater awareness of the activity of God around us. Then those brief ‘arrow prayers’ become a more important part of our lives and begin to reflect a more constant being-in- touch with God. It’s then we start to learn that prayer is not just about asking for things, but giving ourselves to a deepening relationship. This is the heart and goal of prayer — to know God and to be nourished in that relationship.
Prayer is such a personal thing so it’s hard to imagine that someone can teach us how to do it. Maybe you are reading this because you would like to know more. The most important thing is not to be daunted by trying to pray in ways that feel unnatural to you, but to persist in finding ways in which you can pray. It’s really not about having the right words to say, but of spending time with God; sharing with God what’s on our heart, and learning to listen to what’s on God’s heart for you.
Five simple suggestions to get started on prayer, for we learn to pray by praying.
- Start — just do it! Tell God that you want to know and love him; invite the Holy Spirit to pray in you and teach you to pray.
- Make time and find a place — mindful of the rhythms and routines of your life, try to identify regular, special times for your prayers. It’s easy to say and harder to achieve, but make it a priority and mean business with God.
- Alone and with others — find people to pray with; family, friends work-mates: we need other people’s support.
- As you can… find the way that works for you. Dom Henry Chapman coined the phrase “pray as you can, not as you can’t’” For some, a printed “office” (daily Morning, Evening or Night Prayer for example) is helpful; others prefer a pattern that is more open and flexible. Listen as well as speak!
- Don’t give up! Though God does the praying within us, we need to supply the effort to make time and space. As we persist the routine of praying becomes the rhythm of our lives. Don’t give up when it’s hard. Trying to pray is praying and God is ever-present.
See Stephen Cottrell Praying through Life (CHP, 2003, p132ff) for more ideas on prayer.
Northumbria Community (www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/how-to-use-daily-office/)
The Community of Aidan and Hilda (www.aidanandhilda.org.uk/prayer-examples.php)