Sometimes it seems as if many believers feel the need to alter who they are when they come to God in prayer, particularly when others are around. As if God will not hear them if they are themselves, they play characters, hoping to be more acceptable to God and others.
I have personally struggled over the years with what to say and how to say it when I pray. I’m in good company. Even the apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray. And with kind, compassionate patience in his voice, he taught them to pray simply, humbly, confidently, according to God’s word and for God’s glory.
You could sum up Jesus’ teaching into a few guiding principles.
1. Slow Down and Be OK With Silence
There is no need to use filler language to take up every ounce of space in prayer, as if the Lord can’t handle the silence or doesn’t have time to listen. You don’t have to speed through like an auctioneer. I can’t imagine how I would react if someone came up to talk to me like, “Stephen Miller, just … just Stephen, we should just go to lunch together, Stephen Miller. Just let’s just go grab … just a burger, Stephen. Stephen, I know you like a good burger from time to time, Stephen Miller. Stephen, just then we could just grab a frozen custard, Stephen Miller.” I know that I am not God, but in my flesh, I might be too weirded out to get a burger with that guy. If we would naturally react to someone talking to us that way, why do we feel the need to speak that way to God? He knows our hearts. Slow down. Be OK with pauses. Perhaps God wants to speak to you in the silence.
2. Pray to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit
God is Trinity. One God, three distinct persons, each person fully God. It is truly a great mystery, and I don’t know that we will ever understand it this side of Heaven. Yet each person within the Trinity is distinct. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit. We rightly relate to God as a Trinity, adoring and thanking and pleading with Father, Son and Spirit in our prayers. Yet while doing this, it can be easy to get confused and begin to thank the Father for dying on the cross and so on and so forth.
While God knows what we mean and sees past our broken prayers, this has got to confuse people who are listening to our prayers, trying to pray along in agreement. When you pray, consider the person of the Trinity to whom you are praying. The Father sends the Son to be the Savior of the world. The Son came obediently, died in our place, rose from the dead, then sent his Spirit to convict of sin, to convince of truth, and to equip and empower us. So as we pray, pray with that in mind.
3. Use Normal Language
My great Grandpa was a firm believer that the only inspired word of Scripture was the King James Version. When he quoted scripture (and he could quote most of the Bible I think), it was always KJV. While he was one of the biggest spiritual influences in my life, it was odd to me when he began to pray out loud, because he prayed in old English. “Our Gracious Heavenly Father, Thou hast bestowed upon us this bountiful feast and the glory belongest to Thou and Thou alone. Wouldst Thou blesseth this meal by Thine own good pleasure … .” Then, once he said amen, he would resume speaking in modern language. When you pray, there is no need to speak like someone from a bygone era in order to sound more spiritual or reverent. Use normal language, and pray like yourself.