If truth be told, many of us are not happy about our prayer life — its intensity, its duration, its stimulation, its discipline, its effectiveness — and the list could go on. There are statistics out there even about how little time pastors spend in prayer. One of those secret topics among Christians is the prayer life. What to do?
A few years back I came to the conclusion that part of our problem has to do with how many of us have been taught to pray. We (and I’m thinking mostly here of evangelical Protestants) have been taught to pray privately, personally, and spontaneously. Some people wear out doing this; they just run out of things to say and tire of saying the same things to God. Many don’t want to admit this, but it is true. Plenty have told me; plenty have written to me about this.
I did some study on how Jesus would have been taught to pray, and this is what I concluded: Jews taught their children to pray differently than many of us (and I’m using “us” here as code for low-church evangelical type prayers). Here’s what Jews did.
First, they prayed from the heart for whatever was on their heart and mind. We call this “spontaneous” prayer, and we see lots of evidence for praying just exactly what you feel in the Psalms. I think usually of Psalm 137 first — praying that little babies will get their heads crushed on rocks is not what I think is a good idea, but it is just what those folks felt and so that is what they said. Spontaneous prayer is what happens when honest hearts offer honest words to a God who wants to hear from us. Mark Roberts has a good book on this.
Second, they prayed also according to a “sacred rhythm.” That is, they prayed set prayers (like the Psalms, the Shema, the Amidah, etc.) at set times (morning, midday [aft. sacrifice time], and evening). Praying like this today is to learn to pray with the Church. This kind of prayer, even though some find it hard at first, stimulates spontaneous prayer.
My book, Praying with the Church, just came out this week and I’ll spend a few days this week dipping into some of its ideas. This book encourages all of us to learn to pray not only alone, as members of and in the Church (our private, personal, spontaneous prayers), but also together with the Church. When I posted about this in the past, I got some stories from readers and commenters and some of them found their way into this book — with permission, of course.
Kris now officially calls this our “candle” book: