For years, I’ve admired believers who can pray with power and passion, with eloquence; prayers that inspire listeners to renewed faith and service. For years, I’ve known that I am not I am not one of those people. I’ve thought that I “should” be an eloquent pray-er, and that’s been troubling. In fact, if even one other person is present, I get nervous and self-conscious—a response that is a world different from my daily ongoing conversations with and prayers to the Lord.
Of course, I know that there is a difference between prayers prayed in different contexts, such as prayers prayed in a worship service with a group of believers, and the daily prayers of an individual believer.
First, I looked at what Jesus taught about prayer. The classic passage on praying is found in Matthew 6. In verses 5-15, Jesus gave specific instructions on prayer. To paraphrase, He told us:
- Not to pray in places and in ways to bring attention and credit to ourselves.
- To pray simply. The Father already knows what we need. Just ask.
- To pray privately--in a prayer closet with the door closed.*
And then Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer, a short prayer of perfect order and simplicity. First we honor the Father and pray for the advancement of His Kingdom. Then we ask him to provide for our daily needs—needs that He already knows. Then we ask for forgiveness of our debts as we forgive others. We ask for His protection from temptation and evil. Then we give Him the glory and honor that belong only to Him.
Certainly, Jesus’ model of prayer argues for simplicity. But I wanted to know more, and so I asked. As I’ve known for many years, prayer is a two-way conversation. With every sentence there must be time for an exchange. If the Lord questions me, I pause, listen for His questions, and then answer from the heart. I am careful with answers. Because He knows the heart, only a heart-honest answer will do. And if I ask questions, I must likewise pause and listen from the heart.
That attitude of prayer as a conversation sets the stage for a rich exchange. Beyond that, the Lord expects that we will, “Pray always from the heart simply, for I know the heart. Anything else is simply noise, and it is not heard.”
It’s important to note that He did not say to pray from the mind. The mind is strong and opinionated. It makes excuses. It has desires, logic, and it colors real needs with both right and wrong motivations. By contrast, the heart reduces the chatter of the mind to our true, essential needs. In some ways, it is harder to pray from the heart than from the mind. For example, to pray from the heart, I have to first question myself closely before prayer to see what lies heavy on my heart. And when I know what’s on my heart, then my prayer is unfailingly simple and direct. In other words, searching the heart truly gets to the heart of things.
Finally, the Lord added, “It is the heart that the Father know and sees. It is the heart that He cares for.”
And when I still have questions about whether my prayers are acceptable, He asks me, “Are your prayers answered?” And the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” So I continue to pray as a two-way conversation, simply, and from the heart. And it is indeed good.
Amen, and Amen, and Amen.* The prayer closet brings to mind the Jewish custom of covering the head with a tallit for morning prayers. A tallit is a large, rectangular shawl. When closed, the tallit forms an instant prayer ‘closet.’ A blue thread is sewed into the fringe so the wearer will remember and do the commandments of the Lord, and be holy unto God. (Numbers 15: 38-40)