I have read the research. Apparently, many pastors spend less than five minutes per day in prayer. That suggests, in turn, some of their followers may not pray at all! I’d like to think the research is faulty, but that may only be wishful thinking. Instead, I want to note two common misconceptions that can make prayer seem difficult.
First, some regard prayer as unnatural or foreign to modern, enlightened human beings. But is that true? Try a two-part thought experiment with me. Say the following words out loud, with expression:
Now, imagine a set of circumstances that would make such words appropriate. Imagine good, bad, evil and dangerous circumstances that would call or pull such words out of most people.
You have just imagined common primal prayers that often erupt out of the human heart when circumstances demand it — so primal in fact that few could stifle them. That is because we are hardwired by creation-design to pray. We were made to be in relationship with the One who made us and loves us. We were made to call out to this One — in our delight, pain and confusion.
We were made for connection or communion, so that we do not “do life” alone, but together, most of all with the One who made us. In the garden, primal history, we find indication that humans and God enjoyed long walks together communing and sharing (Genesis 3:8).
This is important because if you and I were made for prayer, then prayer is not unnatural, but natural. Prayer is (super)natural to us as children of God. It can be like riding a bike. You never really forget. It can be like speaking a language you once knew well but haven’t used for years. Then, given the right circumstances, you just start hearing and speaking. Because it’s there deep within you. At times you can and do cry “out of the depths” (Psalm 130).
This is important because followers of Jesus can be unaware or misinformed at this point. They think it’s not natural to pray, especially “out loud.” So they assume there must be a special way, vocabulary or technique.
But here’s a fundamental truth of God’s Word for God’s people. God is with you because God’s Spirit indwells you. Therefore, there is nothing you experience (deeply or otherwise) — nothing you see, hear or feel — that God doesn’t experience with you. God is there in the moment and shares it with you. And, if that is so, what could be more natural than to speak? To say, “Wow, did you see that?” “Oh, that hurt!” “What do you think?” “What should we do about that?”
Imagine picking up a dear friend at the airport and then driving him or her to your home. As you are driving, another car nearly runs you off the road. How would you react? As though you were alone? Perhaps you yell at the other driver. Meanwhile, your friend is reacting like normal people do — with her own exclamations, with gratitude you’re both alive and safe. But would each of you move through the experience and not talk about it? Not likely. Yet, that is how most of us experience our lives. We know God is there, but we live as though God is not there and we are alone.
For many years, my wife, Lavone, has accused me of talking to myself. For a long time, I tried to deny it and lived in such denial. But more recently I’ve stopped the denials. I do talk to myself. I process things out loud, usually whispers but not always. And I am learning to act on the core belief that I am not alone. Immanuel is His name. So I’m talking about it, whatever it is, with the One who is here with me — in fact, the most important One who is here.
A second common misconception about prayer is related to the first. Namely, that prayer is an interruption or a pause in the action of our lives. Life is moving along. This or that happens. Then, we pause to pray. In fact, don’t we often say, “Let’s just pause to pray”?
But when it comes to the kingdom of God, things are often the other way around. What if it’s the other way around with prayer? Could our acts, our decisions, and our reactions be the “pauses” in the main action, which is participation and loving interaction with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
Imagine that you and your very good friend, are together some evening. You’ve known each other for a while and have a growing number of shared experiences. As on previous occasions, you are sharing recent events and episodes in your life — reminding each other of what is going on, discussing together what options or responses to those circumstances might be best, perhaps making decisions or plans for what you will do together. You are having a great time when your doorbell rings. You might be expecting someone to stop by or maybe not. When you hear the doorbell, you excuse yourself and go to see who is at your door. You encounter another person, talk with him or her, respond appropriately and close the door. Then, you return to your friend and pick up the conversation that was “on pause.” Or perhaps you invite the one at the door to join you and your very good friend as your evening continues.
Now, what is the main action in this scenario? Is it sharing with your very good friend or going to see who has rung the doorbell?
What if the main action of life is our ongoing conversation and interaction with Jesus, which provides the context, perspective and wisdom for all the other events and encounters we have with others? What if we really could “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV)? And what if our awareness of Jesus with us and participating in our lives was the main or primary reality, and the situations and circumstances that fill our lives are opportunities to “pause” our primary conversation to respond with kingdom perspective and power?
What if one of the most natural things we ever do is pray? So we talk about everything with Jesus.
What if life itself turns out to be prayerful interaction with God in, with and for others? So prayer is not the “pause” — it is the life we’re given that pauses to include everything else we experience.
Bishop David Kendall is an ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference. He was first elected to the office of Free Methodist bishop in 2005, and he will retire at the end of this month. He is the author of “Follow Her Lead” (fmchr.ch/dkfollow) and “God’s Call to Be Like Jesus” (fmchr.ch/godscalldk).