Monday, August 13, 2007

Teach me to pray

I'm no good at taking compliments. Not that I receive all that many, but the one that leaves me most embarrassed and stammering for a proper response is this: "You pray beautifully." I know those extending the compliment are doing so with all sincerity, and I totally get what they're trying to say, really I do. All the same, I still never know quite what to say. For some reason, their kind words expressed in all sincerity and desire to encourage make me feel as if I was performing and not praying. And while we're just keeping it real, one of my biggest fears is that maybe sometimes--only some times--I am.

Several years ago, I was on the phone with an acquaintance discussing a Monday night prayer group we were about to begin and I was sharing with her the passion God had given me for a group of women to meet together for prayer.

"I just keep asking, 'Lord, teach me to pray...'" I confessed to my friend.

"Oh, Lisa," she responded, "you pray beautifully."

Again, while I get her point, she totally missed mine. My desire wasn't to learn proper word usage and placement of just the right amount of emotion; I wanted to learn the discipline and delight of a lifestyle of prayer, "praying without ceasing."

Jesus tells a story of two pray-ers, one no doubt praying beautifully, he the good religious Pharisee who stands up and gives God and whoever else may be within earshot his impressive resume. In contrast, the other, a despised no-good tax collector, stands at a distance, does not even look up to heaven but "beat his breast and said, 'God have mercy on me, a sinner.'" Jesus says it is the tax collector, and not the super religious Pharisee, who goes home justified before God.

How tempting to want to impress others with our praying. How much insecurity we wrap up into our public prayers. How often we fear others' judgment or evaluation when we pray.

How then should we pray? Consider Jesus' words from Matt. 6:
And when you pray do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray
standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell
you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go
into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.

Public prayer is crucial, meaningful, Biblical. I love the fellowship and oneness that comes from agreeing together in prayer with my brothers and sisters in Christ. My journey has been profoundly marked on more than one occasion by kneeling together as it were with others, beseeching the throne with one mind and unity of desire.

Jesus isn't telling us to hang up public prayer. Instead, the public should only be a reflection of the private. Actually the public is just that: an overflow of what exists in the private. The private, the just-me-and-the-Lord times, that is where faith is forged and intimacy is built. If I only pray to be "seen by men" then that is all I get and all I have; I've received my "reward in full." How fervently I pray that my public passion and my public experience never exceed my private.

Look how Jesus says we are to pray: in your room, door closed, in private, unseen, and alone. Intimate. Personal. Authentic. Without pretense. Just you--the real you--and the Father.

This is praying beautifully: sincere, honest, humble, personal.

My friend told me the story of coming into church late one Sunday morning with her preschool son. The service had already begun and it was my turn to pray the opening prayer that particular Sunday. I began to pray just as they were climbing the steps to the balcony, so she stopped her son and motioned for him to be quiet and bow his head. After a moment, her son looked up at her, eyes wide, and asked, "Mama! Is that JESUS?"

"No, son," she answered, "that's just Mrs. Lisa."

Far from it, my sweet little friend. Your mom is right; I'm just Lisa, a humble sinner, saved by the radical grace of a merciful God, who counts it a blessing and a joy to boldly approach the throne of grace through the amazing privilege of prayer.

Lord, teach me to pray...


  1. I'm always a little unnerved when I hear someone say about another person, "She prayes beautifully" because I guess I'm not so concerned about the "way" it sounds as I am in feeling for certain that my sister is 100% sincere in her prayers. When a prayer sounds beautiful is it because we use the words of Scripture or because we use "flowery" words.

    Sometimes, I struggle with group prayer because I am afraid of being evaluated in the "beauty" of my prayers. Honestly, in the past number of months, I have struggled with prayer because the things I'm praying about hurt, and I just don't have the words.

    It is a privilege of approach the throne of grace. The beauty of prayer is that privilege.

  2. Public prayer is something I look forward to more since I've begun asking God what He would have me pray or whether I should just be quiet. It seems as though I'm joining in with Him. Silence doesn't bother me as much and I don't feel obligated to fill in the gaps...

  3. The thing about your praying Lisa is that it is so sincere. You can tell that you are the real thing when you pray. I have heard many rehearsed prayers, and prayers that are all basically the same, like they get it out of books or something... But your prayers are never like that. I can feel God's presence everytime you pray. And it's easy to see that it is coming straight from your heart! It's not the words that make it's the trueness of your heart that is revealed that makes it beautiful.

  4. I know this probably sounds very inane, but I was watching a reality show last night and one of the contestants was praying. She was saying, 'God I need x, y, and z.' And I was sitting there judging and dismissing 'how' she was praying thinking, 'Does she think God is a genie in a bottle that she can direct on what *she* wants Him to do?'. And your post this morning reminds me that God sees our heart when we pray, even if we don't use the right words or 'methods' of prayer. We can say all the 'right' words, but have the wrong heart ... or conversely, all the 'wrong' words, but have a pure heart and motives.

  5. I got chill bumps up and down my arms reading that last paragraph. How amazing that we are granted access to the very throne of God. And how shamefully often I neglect that quiet, alone in my prayer closet time of seeking His face. Teach me to pray, indeed.

  6. You've mentioned that you don't sing well. But you still worship, right? You still lift up your voice and make a joyful noise right along with those that could easily sing a solo. That's your choice of obedience to him. to present your less-than-perfect sacrifice.
    If you happen to sound poetic as you cry out to God in prayer...then it could be because you have been given the gift of eloquent words. God gave it to you. On purpose. There's nothing you can do about it...short of rejecting it. :)
    We've all been given gifts. And we all need to protect our hearts as we present those gifts to God. The singer. The dancer. The poet. To make sure that we don't take ownership of them. that we aren't parading them around haughtily. But it doesn't mean we have to hide them. What good would that be to the Body?

    You've got such a good attitude in it all...guard that you dont let the enemy try to impose others judgements (percieved or otherwise) on you to keep you "in hiding". You know?

    There was a time when God made me aware of my heart during prayer. And he'd actually tell me to stop and start over ;) because my heart wasn't focused on HIM.
    My heartcheck is to make sure the focus of my heart is on the throne of Grace...and to just release my heart at His feet. If it comes out beautifully here on earth. alright. but that's no matter... as long as I know my heart is being honestly exposed before the Lord, he sees it as incense before His throne.

    Well, I've written a book. Opps. Sorry! :)
    blessings on you and on your words. May God cause them to be POWERFUL as well as beautiful.

  7. I think the Lord led me to your blog today, since my heart has been contemplating prayer and my heart's cry has been once again, 'teach me to pray'. Thank you for your honesty here - I too am humbled to enjoy the priveledge of approaching the throne of God in prayer. Lately I've been thinking about the kinds of prayers God hears, for there are many examples in Scripture where God is not listening, not responding to the selfish, thoughtless prayers of people who call themselves believers. I find the current attitude that God is somehow required to listen and respond to our prayers (the yes, no, or wait theory) is distrubing. In asking God to teach me to pray, I am learning that I need to know His will and simply pray that His will will be accomplished in my life. For that, I need to be more in His Word. The real me - just me, alone with my Father and His love letter. Precious.

  8. I love to hear you pray, Lisa. Not because of you, but I agree with Allison in how sincere it is and I feel so close to God when I hear you pray! It feels like I am a witness to your praises to God everytime I hear you - it seems that personal. You have been blessed with so many "gifts" and I will always look forward to hearing your prayers.

  9. Actually the public is just that: an overflow of what exists in the private.

    Thank you for that thought today. That is definitely needful for me to mull over. Lord, teach me to pray...

  10. What a profound post. I really needed this today. Bless you!

  11. Dear Friend....

    I have never doubted the sincereity of your prayers...I feel the Mighty power of God as you pray....but I see what you are saying and I appreciate this post....

    My love,


  12. Beautiful post, my Friend. Yes, Lord...teach us to pray.

  13. Your post helped me so much! I am always terrified at church that they might call on me to pray, and I won't sound as thoughtful as the other pray-ers. But I shouldn't pray to sound more Christian. I shouldn't be worried that I don't sound as "intelligent" as them, I should embrace the opportunity to pray because of what prayer is. Thanks for a beautiful insight!

  14. ROBYN:

    When I finally realized what you mention, it seemed as if "the burden" of sounding right was lifted. It's all about your heart and God, pretty simple. When I talk to children about praying, I like to tell them, just talk to God. It's a shame that we allow the enemy to mess with our minds and make us want to be prideful in our attempt to "sound good".

    Oh ya, Lisa....great post! I believe this post needs to be posted around the church! These guys are correct, your prayers are sincere and it is obvious. On top of that, you don't use vain repetition just to "get through with it", which appears to be the issue sometimes with people.

    May God Bless you with a peace that only He can supply in this issue.


  15. I struggle so much with praying aloud. I do it, so my children can see me do it, but words, which flow from me so easily in coversation seem to get stuck when I am speaking to the Lord. I do so much better in private when I can cry out to God with my heart and I don't need to be able to articulate what I mean, because He knows. Thank you for sharing this post and your vulnerability in it.

  16. Lisa,
    As always I love your writing and your insights. I too have prayed recently, "Lord, teach me to pray..." My prayers are so quick and hurried and desire the time to just sit, talk and listen. I sense the Lord drawing me closer. It is something that has been pressing on me lately.

  17. Lisa,
    As always I love your writing and your insights. I too have prayed recently, "Lord, teach me to pray..." My prayers are so quick and hurried and desire the time to just sit, talk and listen. I sense the Lord drawing me closer. It is something that has been pressing on me lately.

  18. Lisa,
    As always I love your writing and your insights. I too have prayed recently, "Lord, teach me to pray..." My prayers are so quick and hurried and desire the time to just sit, talk and listen. I sense the Lord drawing me closer. It is something that has been pressing on me lately.