My four-year-old granddaughter, Calleigh, welcomed me home from a business trip with a “letter” she’d written while I was gone—a page of colorful scribbles and swirls. I asked her to read it to me. She said, “Dear God, I love God. No, wait. I’ll start again. Dear Crappaw, I love Crappaw. Thank you for giving me a good day. I love Crappaw. Dear Calleigh.”
I saved the letter and wrote down her words. I treasure them.
Jesus depicted prayer as something like a child approaching a loving parent or grandparent. Our efforts may be simple, even primitive. That’s not a disadvantage. However grown up we may be, we enrich our prayer lives by going back to the beginning.
Jesus’ closest followers once came to him, saying, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1 NIV). The disciples were grown men. Grown Jewish men. They’d been praying their whole lives, every day—prayers of David, of Moses, of their own. Yet they came to Jesus as beginners, admitting that, for all their praying, they had so much to learn.
Consider this quote attributed to Brother Lawrence, author of The Practice of the Presence of God: “For many years, I was bothered by the thought that I was a failure at prayer. Then one day, I realized I would always be a failure at prayer; and I’ve gotten along much better ever since.”
To pray well is to admit you need lessons, to lose your sophistication, whether real or imagined. Become a constant beginner, a habitual novice. Start over at the beginning—as Maria sang in The Sound of Music, “a very good place to start.”
“Lord, teach us to pray” was also a request. No technique can substitute for the deep, fervent hungering and thirsting that prompts such a query. Andrew Murray wrote, “What folly to think that all other blessings must come from him, but that prayer, whereon everything else depends, must be obtained by personal effort!… Just as [God] will give all other grace in answer to prayer, so, above all and before all, he will bestow the grace of a praying heart.”
So say, “Lord, teach me to pray.” Ask for the grace of a praying heart.
Jesus didn’t conduct a seminar to teach his disciples to pray. He didn’t write on a blackboard. He didn’t boil it down to three easy steps. He turned his face toward the sky and prayed the words we’ve come to call the Lord’s Prayer.
He taught by doing. We can learn from his example. We can (and should) study his prayer, but perhaps the best thing is to just do it, no matter how clumsy or rudimentary our prayer might be. To return to Brother Lawrence: “[These] are prayers which, however short, are nevertheless very acceptable to God.… A little lifting up of the heart suffices; a little remembrance of God, one act of inward worship.”
Try it. Begin again. Ask for the grace of a praying heart. And start now, however humble your efforts.
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