Praying is hard and I need all the encouragement I can get to pray. This week I’m making another concerted effort to get some regularity and structure and focus to my prayers. I find it too easy to skip over praying as though it’s somehow less useful or strategic than other things. But then, what a strange way to describe prayer… strategic or useful! I wouldn’t get far evaluating my communication with my wife in those terms! “I didn’t speak with Fiona today, because I didn’t think it was that important or strategic.”
Oops! It probably would become very strategic and very important very quickly!
God knows that we find it hard to pray and we don’t earn brownie points with God by praying. But it’s something we are urged to make a priority, even though it’s difficult. The Apostle Paul regularly reminds his readers that he continually prays for them and what he is praying for them. Epaphras also serves as an example to us:
Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. (Colossians 4:12)
So, what do I mean ‘pray it, don’t say it’? Certainly, let’s make the time, privately and publically, to speak with our heavenly Father. Bring our requests and petitions to God often, as he urges us to do. This is the basic meaning of the word ‘pray’. It means to ask or beseech or implore God for something. God’s word both invites and commands us to pray, and Jesus models the important matters to bring to God in what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. We can bring any need or worry to God, but we are especially encouraged to seek first the matters of God’s Kingdom.
But as we pray, let’s stop saying the word ‘pray’. Or at least, let’s not say it so often. I find myself doing it, and I hear others doing it, and it’s really quite strange. Recently I listened to someone who was praying at church begin nearly every sentence with the words “We pray for…” I’ve done this too. Sometimes children simply say things like “And we pray for Bob and Mavis and Aunty Jean” and we have no idea what they are actually asking for them. To keep saying “we pray” to God is like saying “we ask”, “we ask”, “we ask”. There’s nothing wrong with saying “we ask”, but why don’t we simply ask without mentioning the fact that we’re asking.
Compare the difference…
Heavenly Father, we pray that you will send rain to ease the drought. (Sounds formal and religious.)
Heavenly Father, we ask that you will send rain to ease the drought. (Still sounds formal.)
Heavenly Father, please send rain to ease the drought. (A more normal and natural and direct way to speak.)
As I look through the Scriptures there are many encouragements to pray. There are many examples of prayers we can follow. What is conspicuously absent from most prayers is the word “pray” and especially the phrase “we (or I) pray for…”. It’s not entirely absent. There are some examples, including:
“Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. (2 Samuel 7:27)
Here, David is referring to what he is doing. It’s not the beginning of a sentence, “We pray…”.
There are many references to “pray” and “prayer” in Solomon’s prayer following the dedication of the temple:
28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. (1 Kings 8:28-30)
Again, this is referential. Solomon is asking God to respond to his and his people’s prayers. And there are more examples like this.
Some of the prayer psalms include references to the speaker’s prayer or to him praying:
1 Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1)
1 Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray. (Psalm 5:1-2)
Most prayers recorded in Scripture are respectfully clear and direct. They’re not subjunctive or vague “We pray that you might…” or “We pray for the church and our missionaries.” Perhaps the clearest expression of this is Jesus’ own prayer:
9 “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.’ (Matthew 6:9-13)
Next time you are invited to lead in prayer at church, try writing out your prayers in full. Aim to speak normally and respectfully and directly to God. See how it sounds without even using the word ‘pray’. I suspect for some of us the word ‘pray’ in our prayers has become something, like, you know, a verbal tic. But at the end of the day, what’s most important is that we pray, not exactly how. God, in his grace, will keep listening to our verbal foibles and he’s pleased to hear from us. Thank you God.