We can do better at prayer. Myself included. Perhaps the reason our prayers lag, or why we find it a chore, or why it just doesn’t seem exciting, is because we expect an immediate payoff. Prayers, we think, should get some result. Either we should feel differently, or we should see some change (in us, in our situation, in others). And when we don’t, we think that prayer is a pointless exercise, something not worth continuing.
In our minds, we know that’s a wrong approach to prayer. But in our heart and, most importantly, in our will, we’re not convinced.
When I go down this path, and praying feels tedious, I go back to the basics. I ask myself, “Why do I pray”? Perhaps you also have asked the same question.
We pray because we want to maintain our relationship with God. That relationship is not based on what we can get from God. So praying is not like going to the doctor in order to get a prescription or to get better. And praying is not like going to the bank to get a loan, or withdraw money. We don’t pray to get things from God.
Neither do we pray to tell God what to do. Certainly, we want God to help our family and friends, especially when they have serious health or financial or employment concerns. But looking at God as the one who fixes our problems or tends to our needs does not help build a healthy relationship with Him.
Since prayer is about a relationship with God, we should not think about praying to ‘God.’ That’s too abstract, and too impersonal. We should, instead, remember that we are talking to our Father, and His Son whose personal name is ‘Jesus.’ When we realize we’re talking not to a Supreme Being but to a Person (a divine person, but still a real person), then our prayers will become more personal, and not just a to-do list.
With any relationship, the most important thing is communication. Not information, but conversation. Not relaying data, but expressing our hopes and fears. Our prayer to our Father should be the same way. We know that He knows us and what we need. But to talk with our Father, to converse with His Son Jesus, to speak with Him is to say both how we feel and what we think.
That’s how the prayers go in the Psalms—the prayerbook Jesus wrote and used. Those prayers are less about asking or telling God what to do, and more about talking to our Father and His Son about what angers or frustrates, what scares or worries, and what excites and encourages us.
That’s the kind of conversation that builds and maintains a relationship. And that’s what we want in prayer.
One important aspect to that conversation—so important that we too often overlook it—is the simple act of saying, ‘Thanks.’ Again, the Psalms are filled with many words of thanksgiving. And so should we.
Very simply, very practically speaking, our most common everyday prayer should be to give thanks to our Father every time we eat. Saying ‘Grace’ at every meal (before and after) is not simply polite; it’s the way friends speak to each other. And we speak that way both because it expresses our heartfelt feeling, and because we don’t want to take the other person for granted.
So this Lent, as a way to rebuild your relationship with God, begin by saying “Grace” (i.e., thanking your Father) before and after you eat your meals. As that becomes a habit, start saying thank you to Our Lord every time you receive some benefit (not matter how small or insignificant). And then, finally, add to these some words that express your fears and hopes. Using the Psalms, I’ve found, is very effective in doing this relationship-building, since it helps me identify thoughts and feelings that I often overlook.