| Prayer: you can’t get it wrong!|
Jeff Eckart says, “If your heart is true, your prayers are sure.”
My second year of college I borrowed my older brother’s guitar and took it with me to college. A friend shared 5 basic chords with me and here and there in my spare time I began to pick it up and play. Within a few days I began learning songs. Within two years later I would be standing in front of hundreds of people while leading them in musical worship playing this instrument. This random hobby became my paid profession as I was hired as a worship leader. I went from playing solo to leading bands with several musicians all playing many different instruments. I began to write and perform my own music. As my proficiency grew, I traveled the country playing and eventually recording a live worship album. I remember someone saying, “The guitar is one of the easiest instrument to learn, but one of the hardest to master.” I’ve found this to be true.
Could the same be true of prayer? Is it easy to learn, but hard to master? Have you ever felt any insecurity about prayer? Have you wished you felt like you knew more, wanted to pray more, hoped that you were getting it right when you prayed? I have felt and still feel this way. If you are like me know that we are not alone. In my experience, even the people you would label “prayer warriors” have these same feelings. So, rest easy, you can feel inadequate and yet still pray with increasing priority, power and purpose. My goal is that as you read this, your confidence will grow that your current knowledge and practice of prayer is something that will grow as you do.
Back to the guitar for a minute…then we will talk about prayer.
My early songs were simple. The meter, transitions, keys, and every other component of the musical compositions I could play were basic. As I progressed, my proficiency grew, and I was able and adept at much more complicated pieces of music. Every stage of my growing musicianship built off of the previous one, and my repertoire expanded exponentially. My confidence grew with time and experience. I gained a growing sense of authority over my command of the guitar.
There are many parallels between learning to play an instrument and learning to pray. Let’s look at three of them.
START WHERE YOU ARE
When Jesus taught his disciples about prayer he helped them understand that they approach God as their Father. Jesus’ first word of instruction about prayer in Luke 11:2 of what we know of as the “Lord’s Prayer” is “Father.” Jesus opened new doors of understanding for them and for us today as we let this truth sink in: Our Creator isn’t a distant and indifferent Figure, but rather a near and caring Father. We are God’s children. And a loving parent is aware of the level of competency of communication of their child. A good parent knows that their 3-year-old won’t communicate in the same way as their 23-year-old.
Pray where you are. Play the song you are able to play at this moment; pray to the best of your ability now. And from time to time as you learn and grow in your practice of prayer, you will look back and see your progress. The longer you follow Christ and are practicing prayer, the more you will grow in this spiritual discipline. The way you pray now should be different than it was when you first began following Christ, and it should look different 5 years from now as you continue to follow Him. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, just pray in the present. Pray in the knowledge you have now, knowing and trusting that this knowledge will grow. And the precision of your prayer life will grow. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)
My ability to play guitar grew as I continued to practice. And yes, this is true for prayer. Your prayer life and abilities will increase as you continue to pray. As I look back to my early guitar days when I was just beginning, my precision was off, along with my timing and many other factors. The songs and melodies were often rough and choppy. As I continued to play, these rough patches became smoother, and my precision grew. The songs became clearer and stronger. But even at the beginning, they were still songs, it was still music.
I look back to my early days of following Christ, and my prayers are much different today than they were then. I was doing my best then as I’m doing my best now. My knowledge, life experience and ability to hear the Spirit’s leading has grown and is still growing. My prayers were rougher around the edges than they are today. The purpose and clarity of my prayers have changed and are still changing. Your prayers will progress over time, but don’t be overwhelmed thinking that you should be more confident when you pray than what you already are. Play the song that you can play today, and remember your song will get better over time. Your Father understands.
EXPAND YOUR REPERTOIRE
Between my interaction with middle school and high school students with our prayer ministry called Claim Your Campus, and with adults through the National Prayer Committee and the National Day of Prayer, I have found that all ages and stages can struggle at times with what to say. Recently, our organisation conducted national research of over 3,000 adults and students about prayer, and found some interesting results. When asked, “Which of these would you like to understand most about prayer?” the #1 response was “Am I saying the right things?” at 49.85%. The #2 response was, “Why doesn’t God seem to answer?” at 38.81%. Both of these responses speak to the idea that people want to make sure they are “getting it right” in regard to the effectiveness of their prayers.
The more chords I learned, the more songs I could play. I also learned to play songs in every key, and even modulate between them. My practice combined with my increasing knowledge allowed me to expand my musical palette of songs. I found it exciting to learn new rhythms, patterns, and tempos. Slow and fast, upbeat and reflective, simple and complicated all became possible with more time and effort. Let the variety of types of psalms in the collection of Psalms in Scripture guide you in understanding that there are many ways of expressing ourselves to God in how we communicate to Him when we pray.
God uses information to bring revelation. Your repertoire of prayer will expand with time and training. The more you pray and learn, the more you will understand that just like music, there are many genres of prayer. To name a few: confession, thanksgiving, listening, private, public, intercessory, etc. This list could fill the rest of this article and beyond. Just like an adventurous, eager musician would, try new things when you pray. Don’t be afraid to “expand your repertoire” in prayer. If you haven’t prayed in public before, give it a try. The next time you are in a Bible study or worship gathering and there is an opportunity to pray out loud, go for it. Have you knelt in prayer, or took some form of humble physical posture when you’ve prayed? If not give it a try. Have you ever sat silent or meditated on a passage of Scripture, asking God to speak to you personally? Have you written out a prayer? Try playing a new “song” in prayer and increase your horizons. Perhaps there are several exciting new ways that you have never prayed before that you will discover bring new passion to your prayer life.
As I practiced the guitar, my confidence grew. I remember inviting my girlfriend (who is now my wife) to hear me play 2 songs I had learned. My stomach would turn in knots as I stood in front of our congregation a few months later as I played and led worship. I made plenty of mistakes. Over time, my confidence in my abilities grew. Less and less I felt scared and insecure; more and more I felt confident and secure.
One of the things that I have experienced and I have learned from many others as well is the joy in having a growing confidence in my prayer life. Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” You can have confidence when you pray. But unlike our musical analogy, that confidence isn’t based on who you are what you know, but rather on who He is and what He has done. And while that is true, I have found that the more time I pray, the more I am reminded of this truth, that God can make me bold and confident when I pray. I am His child, and you are too! You have been given the right to ask, and to ask with boldness.
This boldness isn’t based on your abilities, but rather on God’s past track record. I have a statement in my prayer journal, “FAITH IS THE MEMORY OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS.” We can be bold when we pray because we know that He is able and willing to help us in our time of need! When you pray, are you recalling God’s faithfulness? Do you remember the great things He has done for you? Is your confidence growing?
What amazes me about prayer is that it can be learned from the time we can learn to speak as small children, and yet still practiced throughout every stage of our lives all through the maturity of adulthood. Like learning the guitar, a simple prayer “song” can be expressed when we first begin to talk and pray to God. And yet, in our growth further down the road of faith we can continue to pray more fully expanded “songs” of praise, thanksgiving and intercession to our loving Father.
Jeff Eckart is on the Executive Board of the National Day of Prayer and America’s National Prayer Committee. In 2009, he founded Never The Same, a national youth ministry organisation. He also founded Claim Your Campus, with a vision to unite 1 million students in weekly prayer on their school campus. He also regularly hosts a US podcast called “The Thought Factory.” Learn more about Jeff at http://jeffeckart.com/ and the organisation at http://neverthesame.org/