By Nikki Dabney
We have been taught that prayer is closing your eyes, bowing your head, clasping your hands together, and starting with, “Dear God,” as if we were writing a letter.
There is nothing wrong with any of those gestures. They are meant to help us focus our minds, which is important. But NONE of those things are necessary for prayer, nor do they define prayer.
We have been taught how to look and sound like we’re praying, but not how to actually pray. Really, we need to be un-taught.
At the risk of providing a formula when my whole point is to stop following a formula, I am going to suggest three ways to help you pray authentically:
- Slow down
Before I start to talk to God, I like to take a deep breath to acknowledge His presence. I do this to recognize God as Giver and Provider. Every breath I take, He has given to me. That’s a lot of gifts. Breathing is just a way to thank Him for His blessings and draw near.
When we pray (especially aloud), we often feel like we have to speak eloquently and talk without pausing. This isn’t true at all. Slow down. Let yourself stumble over your words. You’re not giving a speech; you’re expressing your inmost thoughts.
- Don’t talk to the room
When you’re leading others in prayer, don’t talk to the other people in your prayer circle. Talk to God. Say His name, over and over again until your heart realizes you are talking to the man who died for you. Imagine Jesus, sitting on His throne of grace, and boldly approach (Hebrews 4:16).
- Say what you actually mean
This is the key to praying authentically. Prayers shouldn’t always be cliché or rehearsed. Do you pray certain prayers just because that’s what you’re “supposed” to say?
Before a meal: “God, bless the hands that prepared this food. May it nourish our bodies. Amen.” Ask yourself why you are coming to Him before you eat. To recognize that He is the one who provided the food. To praise Him for its goodness. To check your heart for any idols.
Before a devotional: “God, may she only say what you want her to say.” Really think about why you’re coming to Him before you speak. To beg Him to move in this place and change hearts and minds.
Say what you actually mean.
During personal prayer, I challenge you to try praying aloud. This helps shift prayer from inner dialogue to a conversation with your Father. Your quiet time should include…quiet time. Sit in the silence. Actually talking to God will feel uncomfortable at first. Pray about that! Confess your fear of intimacy to Him.
When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem tore from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). This veil sectioned off the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence was said to reside. Only the high priest was allowed in. With Jesus’ atonement, we can all access His presence. God went to great lengths to give us this intimacy. Let’s enjoy it.