Everyone is a prayer novice.
With that in mind, take a deep breath and relax. Let any pressure you feel about prayer or being spiritual roll off of you.
It does not matter if you are a brand new Jesus follower or if you have seen God work great miracles over decades. The difference between the two is microscopic when compared to the vastness of God. It’s like a grasshopper comparing itself with an ant. However, when you set both next to an elephant, the differences in size fall away.
Sometimes, we compare our prayers to those who seem so comfortable praying, using the right words, while referring to Scriptures and expressing themselves with passion and confidence. I remember praying with a few people years ago and voiced a short, somewhat tentative request. After we said our “amens” a guy in the group corrected my theology regarding my prayers. He told me that my prayers did not quite reflect what God was all about. I guess he was the grasshopper and I the ant.
Even if I am ant-sized prayer-er, what difference does it make? Why compare myself to others when we are trying to connect with the maker of the universe? Why take pride in my prayers when we are talking to the One who cannot be fully comprehended? When it comes to prayer, there are no experts. We are all novices trying to express the true voice of prayer in the midst of so many distracting false voices.
Henri Nouwen stated in one of his last books,
Prayer, then, is listening to that voice—to the One who calls you the Beloved. It is to constantly go back to the truth of who we are and claim it for ourselves. I’m not what I do. I’m not what people say about me. I’m not what I have. Although there is nothing wrong with success, there is nothing wrong with popularity, there is nothing wrong with being powerful, finally my spiritual identity is not rooted in the world, the things the world gives me. My life is rooted in my spiritual identity. Whatever we do, we have to go back regularly to that place of core identity.
The true voice of prayer brings us back to the place of hearing God’s true voice about our core identity. This is the message that we will not hear from the daily grind of the world, where we learn about how we must perform for our self-worth. We try to find life by seeking the false voices of power, prestige and possessions, the three great obsessions of our culture.
The false voice of power tells us that we can get life as we gain control over our situations and others. We look for ways to advance in authority and power to hold sway. Those with the most authority have greater value. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” not “Blessed are the strong and powerful.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
The true voice of prayer leads us on a path of giving up the pursuit of power, one that gives us permission to be weak instead of trying to cover up our limitations. On that path we hear the true voice saying, “My beloved, you are accepted just as you are.”
The false voice of prestige whispers that we need to be someone worthy of other’s attention. The people that matter have the public eye, or at least that seems to be the case. But prestige is only a limp replacement for what we long for in the core of our being. I love how The Message translates this passage by Paul:
Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
The true voice of prayer leads us on a path of love that frees us to seek and see God. There we hear the true voice saying, “My beloved, you are loved with a love that cannot be greater.”
The false voice of possessions also challenges this path of connecting with God. Our culture tells us in more ways than one that those who die with the most toys do actually win somehow. We buy, we collect, and when we cannot buy and collect we wish we could. More is never enough because we are told that those who have the most matter the most.
Go back and read Paul’s words again about weakness, being nobodies and being chosen by God to receive his love. The true voice of prayer frees us to let go and find treasures in another place than in possessions. We hear the true voice saying, “My beloved, you don’t need more. You don’t need to attain more. You don’t need to press more. I will take care of you.”
We are all novices, learning to express our true voice to God and hear God’s true voice to us. It’s a journey that we can never complete because God’s infinite love for us is, after all, infinite.
This article originally appeared here.