We must never lose a prayer or let it die because we cannot find words to express it, for prayer is always greater than words. Each prayer is special and unique and if we do not pray our own prayer, no one else will. It will be lost forever. We can never pray in the wrong way as long as we pray in our own way. There is a prayer hidden within every human heart waiting to be set free. If we listen, we can hear it ourselves, and even if we don’t, we know that God does.
The one thing we must never do is measure our prayers. Long or short prayers are not the issue; length of time is not as important as taking time. The heart of prayer is to try to say what we mean and mean what we say. If the heart is right, the prayer cannot be wrong.
You cannot teach anyone to pray, just as you cannot teach anyone to love. Both must be discovered within. We don’t learn to pray the way we learn a language through textbooks. “I had to leave aside the learned books” Saint Teresa of Lisieux tells us, “and simply talk to God in my own way, as a child talks to its father.” Prayer is more a discovery than a task, more an adventure than a duty. It is a wish turned Godward, an unveiling of ourselves before him.
Learning About God
Learning to pray is first learning about God: who he is, what he has told us about himself and about his love for us. Real prayer always starts with God. For us, prayer is a response.
How we approach God in prayer very much depends on our attitude towards Him. If God is for us a father and a friend, someone near to us, then our prayer will be childlike, warm and tender. If on the other hand He is for us a God of wrath and anger, a policeman or a judge, then our prayer can only be cold and distant, nothing but a burden and a duty.
Learning about Ourselves
Learning to pray also means learning about ourselves: who we are, what we have received, what we can become. To know ourselves as God knows us, we realize we have been gifted by nature and grace. Hidden within the heart of every Christian, given along with the gift of faith, is the power to pray. “Become what you are“ is a basic principle of prayer and the ideal in our whole relationship with God.
Prayer of the Heart
There are times in our lives when we can’t help praying, when prayer springs spontaneously from our heart: times of crisis and fear, when we automatically call out for help, times, too, of joy and happiness when we feel the need just to say “thank you“ to someone. But prayer is not only for these special moments. It is the leaven of life, our everyday food and drink. Prayer and life go hand in hand, the heartbeat of prayer is our daily living. Prayer reflects life, gathering it into a unity, giving it voice. Life, in turn, tests our prayer and gives it depth. Thus, we pray as we live; we become what we pray.
The prayers that touch the heart of Christ where the prayers of ordinary simple folk, sinners most of them like us – the sick, the blind, the lepers, lost sheep and prodigal sons. “Lord, have mercy,” “Lord, have pity”; they were prayers of need, made in faith and trust.
This is beautifully expressed in a phrase attributed to Saint John Climacus, monk of Mount Sinai: “prayer is God’s gift to those who pray.” it is a path that opens up only to those who walk along it. The most important disposition for prayer is to want to get in touch with God. To want to pray is in itself already a prayer.
Pray as You Can
Too many people fret and worry over ways and methods of praying. Ultimately there is only one way to pray – your way. Nothing is so personal as prayer and it should be as unique and special as the one who prays. There are as many ways of praying as there are people who pray. Prayer, like the way you talk or the way you walk, should be uniquely yours. “No two people”, Saint John of the Cross reminds us, “walk more than halfway on the same road to God.“ Each one has his or her own secret passageway to God and must have the courage to find it. Nothing in life so much as prayer should we be able to say, “I did it my way.“
Pray as you are: not as you wish you were; pray where you are, not from where you think you should be; pray as you can, and not the way others have told you to.
The Heart of Prayer
Perhaps the most wonderful thing of all to remember about prayer is that God wants us to pray. He sends out the invitations, the door is open, the way is prepared. In prayer the heart is more important than the lips, the attitude of mind speaks louder than the words we use. It is the prayer behind the prayer that matters, the unspoken prayer that only God can hear. Talking to God is not the same as talking about Him, finding Him yourself is very different from hearing about Him from others.
Prayer, then, is more than words. It is sharing – sharing your life with God. It is friendship – God and you together. Above all it is love – first discovering His love for you, and then your response. Prayer is saying “yes” to God. And to God, who has everything, it is the one thing that is all ours to give. ”For me,” said Saint Teresa of Lisieux, “prayer means launching out of the heart towards God; It means lifting up your eyes, quite simply, to heaven, a cry of grateful love, from the crest of joy or the trough of despair.”
Our lives are different from the day we discover prayer not as a last resort, but as a first resort.
The following link describes the circumstances of a friend who desperately needed prayer, how prayer helped his immediate situation and the internal conditions needed to be successful in prayer.
The following post talks about different ways to pray and some misconceptions about prayer.
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But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matt 6:6)
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened (Luke 3:21)
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, (John 17:20)
Patterns of Prayer by Eugene McCaffrey