Trouble Praying? Thank God!
It is so sad to hear that many good people find prayer and praying so difficult at times. They may ask: “When do I pray? What do I say? Can I believe that the unknown God knows and hears me?”
In many cases they are bored with mechanically repeating the old prayers taught them by granny or the Sunday school teacher. But they fail to understand that as we grow in physical and mental maturity, so we need to grow also in spiritual maturity — and that includes spiritual growth and maturity also in our prayer life. We grow to adulthood, we pray like adults.
However, in most cases, we unknowingly set up artificial barriers to the natural transition, forgetting that we are both body and soul. Yet prayer is so easy. Basically, if you can breathe you can pray. If you can love you can pray.
Prayer is participation in the life of God. God is pure love, and our loving one another is already prayer. Yet we start in faith: we believe in a supreme being whom we call God, we place our hope in his mercy and providence, but the reason for prayer is love. Prayer is loving; loving is prayer.
Let there be silence
What do I say, what words do I need to know? Real prayer is far deeper than words. Prayer is a person-to-person relationship — even without words. Wonderful prayers are found in the corridors of silence, deep in the inner chambers of the heart. Remember that silence is the language of God, so to speak. Words, no matter how beautiful and poetic, have little value without love.
Many Christians love to pray the prayers written by others, like saints or great preachers; they sound good, they stir the emotions. That is good, but one must beware of not losing that person-to-person bond with God. Sure, one can deeply appreciate the sentiments and yearnings expressed by another person, but they must first become also our very own sentiments, and then flow from our inner chambers.
This personal encounter is closer than even our own self-consciousness; it is without question in the spirit of adoration and worship, for we are dependent creatures, and it is in that spirit of humility that we approach God. It is our only lifeline with the Father, ever recognising that we come from nothing and we depart this earth with nothing. Everything we have, possess and enjoy is a gift.
Have a chat with God
Now, with that acknowledgement deep within us, praying becomes so much easier. So go ahead: Be free to have a normal chat with your heavenly Father or with his son Jesus. Just be yourself — it’s not the words that matter but the sincerity of the heart. Remember, it is person-to-person and the Lord will reply — in his own way, in his own time.
He is God; he hears every word, every sigh, every heartbeat, and certainly every tear. Your encounter is with the very Source of Life itself! At prayer you kneel on the very threshold of eternity.
The easiest of all prayer must be gratitude — that is, thanking the Father every day for his unending goodness, his patience and forgiving power, and for the gift of a Redeemer in Christ. We have so much to thank him for.
But then there is also that basic trust in his word and promises. Faith and trust are vital issues in our prayer life. Look at the Gospel stories and note how the Lord so often responds: “Your faith has saved you.” As we hand our lives and needs over to the Lord in sincere prayer, we witness some astonishing events: the healing of the hopelessly afflicted, his commanding power over the storms in our lives, the total forgiveness of all sin, the multiplication of so little to so much. And above all, we believe that Jesus gave his life for us poor sinners, and with the empty tomb he conquered death and promises us eternal life with him.
Always God’s will first
The apostles asked our Lord how they should pray. Jesus emphasised certain points, such as, ”Thy kingdom come; thy will be done”. Everything we do and all our gifts and talents we use are for his glory, and we must align our wills to his divine will, for in the end, his will shall prevail. Not my will, Father but yours will be done! We must never attempt to change God’s will.
God wants only our salvation. He reminds us to always forgive others as he forgives us; to forgive because we love one another. He promises us our daily bread. Jesus himself offers us some directives in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-6). In your supplications, first his Kingdom, then your neighbour’s needs, and only then self.
Jesus pleads that we do not imitate the Pharisees who believe that in using many words, God will finally hear their plea. Do not be like them. Not the number of words counts, but rather how much we love.
What about those days of darkness when nothing comes your way? Then go his way. Let go, let God take over, trust him. Unite your pain and hurts with the suffering Christ. You may like to recall the cry of St Paul: “I am very happy to make my weakness my special boast so that the power of Christ Jesus may remain in me…for it is when I am weak that I feel strong” (2 Cor 12:9).
The Master guides us further: “Do not be afraid!” By all means, care — indeed, be ever caring — but do not worry. Look at the flowers in the field, and the birds in the sky; they do not worry, for their heavenly Father cares for them. “O you men of little faith”, are you not more precious than they?
Trust God’s love, his caring and his providence. Maybe our prayer life is suffering because we fail to see God’s caring love and faithfulness.
Fr Ralph de Hahn is a priest of the archdiocese of Cape Town.
Published in the August 2023 issue of The Southern Cross magazine