Lord, teach me to pray
A couple of weeks ago during a radio interview to talk about my new book, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy, the radio host asked me about my grandmother. I wrote about her in a chapter called “Ripples”, and since he had recently lost his grandmother, he connected deeply with this part of my story. I wrote about the way my grandma’s life made ripples in my mom’s life, and how both of them rippled on me. Their faith in God impacted me in profound ways and my grandma’s faithful prayer life was inspiring. Here is an excerpt from that chapter:
Grandma enjoyed a long life, rich with close friends and family relationships. You could usually find her in the kitchen, cooking and baking our family’s favorite recipes, and preparing meals for people going through some sort of difficult time. She had a true gift of hospitality, and she often opened her home for prayer meetings and bible studies. You could talk to her about anything and everything, and her favorite advice to give was, “Pray on it.” She practiced what she preached.
Her body outlasted her mind, but at ninety-two years old, though Alzheimer's had clouded her memory, her heart and her beautiful character were unmistakable.
A few months before she died, Mom and I went to see her in the nursing home. That particular day she was clearly somewhere else—another time and another place. She said she was praying about quitting her job. She wanted to spend more time with her family, and she was tired from working so much. She kept talking about what she was going to prepare for dinner. She loved to cook for her family—some of our favorites were her pot roast with perfect gravy, and pumpkin bars with cream cheese icing. That day in the nursing home, she kept asking when I was going to take her to the grocery store and what time everyone would arrive. As she was talking, another resident who had that same faraway look in his eyes wheeled past our room a couple of times and then parked himself right there in the doorway, just looking at me. Neither he nor I knew what to do. Grandma noticed him, looked at my mom and me, and then said discreetly, “Well, don’t you think we should invite him in, maybe offer him some coffee?”
That day I saw clearly that, with or without Alzheimer's, three things were true about my grandma. She was a woman who prayed about everything. She prayed for guidance, for strength and for those she loved. She prayed for me every day for decades. And now she needed me to pray for her.
And I did pray for her, every morning before I got out of bed. I prayed that the nurses would have the patience and strength they needed to care for the residents. I prayed that God would give Grandma peace amidst her confusion, that He would protect her, and that He would take away all her fear. I prayed that in His time, He would make her way home a peaceful one. When I awoke the morning after she died, the first thing I thought about was praying for her. After doing this every day for several months it had become a routine. And then I remembered that she was gone. I was simultaneously hit with sadness and relief—sadness that I would not see her again this side of heaven, and relief that she no longer needed me to pray for her. She was whole and free and of a sound mind. She was home.
But the truth about me is that my consistency in prayer during those couple of months was not something I have often been able to pull off. My grandma had a running list in her bible, and my mom did too, and every day they prayed for the people on their lists. I have tried—believe me when I tell you I have tried—to pray like this. Regular, steadfast, faith-filled prayers that become as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth. But if my dental hygiene mirrored my consistency in prayer, my teeth would probably have fallen out by now.
I know we are all gifted and wired in different ways, and my grandma had a true gift for praying for others. She was passionate about it. I pray throughout my day, asking God to give me guidance, wisdom, and clarity. I pray breath prayers. God, show me Your ways. Give me the help I need in this moment. Lead me into your truth. Fill me with Your peace. Use me and my story to encourage and bring healing to others. I rely on Him in a very personal, real way as I interact with people and process all that goes on around me and in me. I listen for His voice and try to discern His direction. And I also pray for others as needs arise. I pray for my husband and my children, and often times my phone conversations with my sister and my best friend end with, “Let’s pray together.” Because I am very relational, I find it meaningful to connect with God while praying with someone else. But can I just be honest and say that when it comes to prayer I have some hang-ups? When it comes to prayer, there is a lot I don’t understand. So when the radio host asked me how my grandma’s faithful prayer life impacted me, I felt grateful for her example but also aware of my desire to grow in this area.
Many of my friends choose a New Year word rather than making resolutions. I love this because right off the bat it diminishes my fear of failure. Instead of setting a goal that I most likely will not measure up to, the idea is that I choose a word that I will focus on, an area where I desire to grow, or a quality that I want to cultivate. My word for 2018 is prayer.
It was my word last year, too. I wanted a more vibrant, consistent, powerful prayer life, so on 1/1/17 I opened my brand new prayer journal and taped our family Christmas card on the inside of the cover. It has a collage of photos, and I thought that seeing the faces of the people I am praying for would be helpful. I wrote down names of my immediate family members, extended family members, friends, neighbors, people in my life for whom I desire to pray. I wrote out my prayers. And for a few days I did it. I prayed through the lists and then…I stopped. It felt repetitive and stale. It felt ritualistic. And it seemed like the more I tried to push through the doubts about what I was doing, the more the doubts grew.
I told you, I have some hang-ups. I’ve realized some of my thoughts about prayer are performance-based, conditional, even superstitious.
So this year, I’ve decided I need to start where I am. I am like Jesus’ disciples. They had been trained in the faith—many of them had been trained in rabbinical studies, and they knew the Scriptures and prayers. They would have had no problem praying at the end of small group or saying the blessing before a meal. They would have known the right words to say, appropriate prayers that fit the occasion and sounded good. And yet, after watching Jesus pull away from the crowds and pray in private, after watching him pray for others, after watching Him interact with His Father and be filled with the Spirit, they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Humility. This is where we start. This is where I am starting. I went to Sunday School and youth group. I went to bible college. I’ve read books and been in more bible studies than I can count. I’ve been praying for over forty years. But Jesus, teach me to pray.
The Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father) is found in Matthew 6 and Luke 12, but before Jesus tells his followers the words they are to say, he tells them the posture with which they are to approach God, the attitudes they are to cultivate.
Matthew 6:5-8— “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Jesus reminds them to whom they are praying—their Father in heaven who sees them, who loves them, and who knows exactly what they need even before they ask. And then, after He sets the tone for prayer, he gives them words. He gives us words. Just to be clear, God doesn’t need our words—He knows what we want to say before a word is on our tongue. He reads our minds and knows the intentions of our hearts.
Psalm 139:1-4— You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
Jesus gives us words because we need them. We need a way to hold up what is in our heart to God. We need words to communicate our longings and our needs and our hurts and our pain. We need words to connect us to the One who made us and who knows us, and to express our love and gratitude to the One who loved us first.
Matthew 6:9-13--“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
This prayer is comprehensive. And I don’t think Jesus is telling his disciples to just recite these words every day. Rather, He is showing them how to pray, how to shape and form all their praying so it includes worship, surrender, seeking God’s will above all else, and lifting up our daily needs to God our Provider. He teaches that in prayer we are to be reflective as we consider our own sin and our propensity to sin, our need for forgiveness and deliverance from our self-seeking ways, and our need to forgive those who have wronged us. We turn inward and we turn upward.
So this is part of my journey in 2018, and I will be sharing more in the coming months. I want to learn how to pray. I want to become a woman whose life is shaped by prayer. I want to make ripples and carry on the legacy of my mother and grandmother in a way that is authentic and true to the way God wired me.
Are any of you looking to grow in similar ways? What is your word for 2018? I’d love to hear your comments…
Sign up for updates: