By Pastor David Neuen
If you are like me, you yearn for prayer and yet neglect the practice. You know you should pray but various obstacles prevent you from creating a sacred time and place. God offers the grace-filled gift of prayer, but you question its validity in the routine of your day. Richard Foster, author and teacher of spiritual formation, suggests five misconceptions of prayer that deter our engagement.
#1: Prayer means talking. We see prayer as the exhausting exercise of telling God what we want. We wonder if our prayers fall short if we fail to remember and voice a particular concern. We struggle to say everything that makes our heart ache. But prayer is in fact an interaction with God. Kierkegaard said, “A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer was listening.” How can we cultivate the spiritual listening ear? Prayer becomes hearing from God about what we and God can do together.
#2: Prayer cannot be learned. Have you ever witnessed someone praying eloquently and you think, “She has the gift of prayer.” By evidenced by the lack of prayer courses, even in many Christian schools and universities, we assume prayer is not a discipline that we can learn. “One day Jesus was praying and when he finished one of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Luke 11:1). Like any talent we develop, prayer takes practice. The more we interact with God the more we grow.
#3: Prayer is complicated. Prayer is mind blowing! How dare we consider the thought that a finite human spirit be in communion with the infinite Spirit of the universe. But prayer is not complicated. God faithfully receives those who seek Him. Regardless of mispronunciation, poor form, forgetfulness, lethargy, or even hints of selfishness in our prayer, God still delights that we have come to share our hearts with the holy. We should not fret about excellence in prayer or whether we have presented ourselves rightly for God to answer. As a child of the living God, the Lord hears and answers prayer.
#4: Prayer is grim duty. I can attest to the hard work of prayer. There are moments when my frustration with the direction of the world, and God’s seeming permissive attitude towards everything that is happening, leads me to agonizing or sorrowful prayer. But, in other moments of gratitude and praise, prayer can be an incredibly delightful and joyful interaction with God. Prayer never need be a perceived heavy requirement that secures our place in the kingdom. Prayer is an act of love, a longing to rest in God’s wisdom and peace, a hungering to find our spirit immersed in God’s grand vision.
#5: Prayer is ineffective because God is remote and inaccessible. Here I quote directly from Foster who says, “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a characteristic of our lives. But the more we pray, the more we come to the heartbeat of God. God is right among His people. And prayer starts the communication process between ourselves and God and all the options of life fall before us.” Have faith in the Lord of life who is with you, who comes to you, who changes you in prayer.