Speak to God honestly; say what’s really on your heart and mind
In my last article I briefly mentioned what I see as a worldwide resurgence of interest in spirituality, spiritual practices, and religion. A central tenet in all of the above is spending time in prayer. Prayer is how we commune with God, so it’s vitally important.
But how do you even pray? If you weren’t raised within any kind of religion or faith tradition, you might ask yourself that very question. Maybe you think you can’t follow a spiritual path without memorizing the right prayers (not true). Or, perhaps you were raised with exposure to religion and you were taught some prayers, but you don’t remember them and they never really resonated with you anyway.
Well, don’t worry. The prayers written by others are great. But you know what? Most of them were written by other human beings; they’re part of the traditions of a religion. You can cultivate a direct relationship with God and The Holy Spirit; that’s Christian spirituality. Prayer is the way to start cultivating that relationship, but you don’t need to memorize words that someone else wrote, just so you can recite them … God wants to hear what you have to say!
Do you know how many times God has heard those other prayers, such as the Our Father? Despite being Christian, I haven’t said any Our Father’s or Hail Marys in so long, I don’t remember all of the words to them. And I’m in no hurry to look up the words either, because it’s unimportant to me right at this moment. Those are the words of others, not mine. Nothing wrong with those prayers, mind you, but God is more interested in what we have to say for ourselves rather than if we can read from the scripts.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is asked how He prays, and He responds with what became known as the Our Father, telling the disciples “pray like this.” But in the Gospel of Matthew, He simply presented the Our Father prayer as a good example to follow, warning the disciples to not prattle on in prayer with endless words like the Gentiles did. In Matthew, He never said “You need to pray exactly like this.” So let’s not get too hung up on the words themselves … I believe Jesus was saying “I tell The Father what’s on my mind and what I hope for, I express my gratitude. It goes something like this. Now you try” (obviously this interpretation is heavily influenced by the Gospel of Matthew). The text of the Our Father does contain what was on Jesus’s mind when he prayed: Gratitude to God, respect for God, please provide for Me, please protect Me, God’s will be done … and so on. You can express the same sentiments to God without saying those exact words. But more importantly, you can express what’s on your own heart and mind at the time.
So just pray from the heart. You don’t need to memorize and recite the prayers of any religious tradition … God has heard those prayers quite a lot already! You can enjoy cultivating a personal relationship with God, and pray to Him in your own words, in your own way.
For example, maybe you’re in so much anguish (physical, mental, or emotional), life is so painful, and you hate everything so much … if God were there right in front of you, you would want to scream at Him in rage and sadness, like: “F*$%&#@!$^%(&*$#!!!!!!!!!” And if you expressed that, that would be a prayer. If that’s all that you can articulate at the time, because that’s how the ups and downs of life have got you feeling at that moment, then that’s your prayer of the moment. God hears it, don’t worry. Just express that respectfully!
Here’s another example: “Dear God. I’m so lonely, it’s killing me. Life is joyless to me. It hurts so bad, I feel like I can’t go on anymore. I just want someone to love me. Please help ...” That’s another prayer. Say it quietly to yourself or just say it in your thoughts; it will be heard. And I have a feeling that this is the exact kind of prayer that God hears the loudest. God knows what’s in your heart when you pray.
Say what’s on your mind. Tell God what your troubles are. Ask for what you want. Open your heart and speak honestly to Him, and have faith that He’s listening. This is very important. The more faith you put into your prayers, the louder they are heard. Have faith that they will come true.
Furthermore, God needs to hear all parts of you. He doesn’t just need to hear your respect, your gratitude, or other positive emotions. God needs to hear everything from you, just like a partner in a relationship. God needs your anger, your sadness, and your despair too. If you’re angry, even if you’re angry at God, then let God know it (respectfully). If you’re so sad that you honestly don’t feel Grateful for your life or anything else that you have, then let God know, so God can show you the blessings that you do already have. God needs to hear all your emotions, when you have them. He needs to hear from you when times are good, and when times are bad.
As you continue to pray in your own words, and in your own way, you and God will cultivate and grow your own relationship, and then you can work out your own personal prayer routine that works for you.
How not to pray
Although I maintain the words you’re praying don’t matter, as God knows your heart and mind, let’s talk about some ways that you don’t pray. And you don’t pray like this because … it’s not going to work!
Are you familiar with The Serenity Prayer? The most common version of it starts off with “God, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change […]” In other words, there are some things that simply aren’t under our control; we can never affect them. And what would those things be? Basically everything that isn’t us! We are always in control of ourselves, our actions, our thoughts and outlook, and our reactions. Those are the things we can change. Everything else … is just out of our hands. So asking God to change those things will probably get you nowhere. But God will help you if you ask for help with yourself. Let’s consider some examples.
Don’t pray for vengeance, don’t pray for any people to get hurt, killed, suffer, or suffer a downfall, etc. … God will not do that kind of thing for you, and He will be offended by the intention too. God loves everybody, but if He’s going to bring somebody down, He won’t bring them down just on account of your say-so. So you’re likely going to make God angry with you, if you keep that up ….
(Although, if there’s been a serious injustice against you, you can keep praying persistently for justice to be done as described in Luke 18:3–8, and God will grant justice in His own timing.)
Don’t pray for material goods or riches … those are things God knows you don’t need, ultimately. If you’re in financial straits, pray for relief, pray for financial freedom … that’s the right kind of financial matter to pray for. The Lord will provide. He may provide for you in the form of an answer, a way out, maybe some “good luck,” or maybe some venture you’ve been working on will finally come to fruition. In other words, God will provide you with what will really make you happy, rather than material wealth. And God will ease your anxieties, He will always do that for you too.
Now here’s the biggest one … nothing’s stopping you from praying for other people to change. You can pray for someone to change their hearts and ways … but at the end of the day, don’t forget that this is completely out of your hands. You can’t control other people, it’s impossible. So this is something that you just ask God for, and leave it in God’s hands at that point. I’m talking about things like praying for someone to stop using drugs. True and permanent change can only come from within, it doesn’t work any other way. So that person you pray for would need to decide for themselves that they want to make changes in their life, and work hard at doing so, before anything can happen. So you can pray to God in faith, hoping that someone will change their ways, but ultimately it’s up to that person to change; change only comes from within. Just let God know what you hope for and leave it at that. He has a plan for everyone.
God hears you when you pray; He hears what you’re saying, He hears what you think and feel. Have faith in that, and believe, and you’ll see for yourself how your prayers will become true in your life. You will also be cultivating your own direct relationship with God too. Your persistent prayers might even change you, and then you will make them come true … but some say that is the true power of prayer.