I was always a little nervous about praying out loud in a group. Even praying a dinner blessing would sometimes cause a bit of stress. I would worry that I was somehow doing it wrong. The words always sounded fine in my head but when they left my mouth they were somehow less than lovely. I wanted to take them back, to edit, and then put forth my prayer in perfect grammar and proper theology.
I have tried acronyms in order to craft the perfect prayer: P.R.A.I.S.E., ACTS, PRAY, P.R.A.Y.E.R. They are all wonderful tools and have brought great clarity to my prayer time. But for me, I find myself holding back. I find myself more concerned with the format than I do with the subject.
At least I know I’m not alone. Maybe you’ve struggled too? Jesus taught his disciples to pray. They wondered how to communicate with the God who loved them, so Jesus encouraged them to come to him whenever they felt a need. He wanted them to know that the door was always open.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
There have been other times in my life when I can’t seem to stop the words from spilling out. These prayers may not have any continuity. There is no structure. But these prayers are real as well.
Many of the psalms are laments that come out of times of great distress and trouble. They are unashamed cries for help, for salvation, and for rescue. David used prayer to cry out to God. I’m so grateful that he did. It gives me license to cry out too.
In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help…
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck… I am worn out calling for help… My eyes fall, looking for my God.
In 1 Samuel, we hear of Hannah’s prayer. She is praying with a mixture of praise, wonder, pain, and pleas. She is so desperate to hear from the Lord that she goes right to the temple. But there were certain behavior expectations for a woman at that time and she doesn’t want to violate any of the social norms. So she prays without making a sound. She motions, she moves her lips, she shows great expression and emotion…so much so that the priest takes her for being drunk. She laid it all out, without even voicing a word.
I heard one friend say that sometimes she gets in her car and just has to “barf it out before God.” She just lets it go without thinking about who might be watching.
Is it okay to use the word God and barf in the same sentence? It sounds strange to me. It can’t possibly fit the format.
Maybe that’s the point? Sometimes I wonder if carefully and deliberately choosing the words I use—editing them, if you will—actually changes what I had wanted to say to Him in the first place.
Hannah casts aside what is expected of a woman of that time—someone who should be controlled, guarded, and proper—and decides instead to take a risk. She decides to pray without following any rules. She lets the words fly and hopes that He hears her.
And we know that God hears her. God hears us when we pray. But sometimes, I forget.
When worry claims my sweet sleep, why don’t I reach for prayer before reaching for the remote?
When fear grips my heart as I drive to a speaking engagement, why don’t I pray deep, guttural prayers rather than spend time memorizing my opening?
When someone says or does something that cuts into my heart, why don’t I pray first, and react second?
When I want to shrink back…when I want to hide, why don’t I pray through the verses that will give me the strength to step forward?
I wish I had the answers to these questions, but for now I will remain steadfast, praying whatever words come to my mind, in whatever form that they come. And I know that He hears and that He heals.