Learning to pray is like going to the gym for the first time. I had a friend in college who wanted me to sign up at a gym and start working out with him. In our first session we started with the bench press. He put a bar on the weight bench. I quickly got under it and said, “I’m ready. Let’s do this!” He said, “Would you like me to put some weights on it first?” “No,” I replied. “I think this will be fine to start with.” I was right. Five reps and I was finished.
I felt like a featherweight in the weight room.
I’ve felt that way about prayer too. I’ve read stories of ancient mystics who prayed for hours on end. In the late third century Antony prayed with his arms extended mimicking the shape of the cross. He would pray this way for hours and days at a time. In the fifth century a man named Simon Stylites built towers to get away from the crowds. He lived on top of them—the highest one was sixty feet—for thirty-six years.
Some people get up at ungodly hours like 4:00 a.m. and pray. Some have their own prayer language. Some pray long, poetic prayers. Others spend weekends in prayer.
I’ve often felt like a featherweight in the prayer room. Maybe you have too. You have a desire to pray. You’re just not sure how. You think you need to go to a school of prayer and get a degree in prayer before you can even start praying.
The disciples must have felt the same way too. They wanted to pray. So they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” If you’ve ever wanted to pray more or better or deeper or . . . more like Jesus did . . . then you are in good company. If the disciples had been with him and still needed to ask for teaching on prayer you can relax about your need to ask too.
But you do need to ask. And he will teach. He taught his disciples to pursue stillness. “… he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” It seems that anytime Jesus went missing he went praying. He prayed when the demands got busy. He prayed when the decisions were important. He prayed when his energy was depleted. He removed himself from the noise and set an example for us to pursue stillness.
Then he trained them to practice simplicity. Instead of giving them a lecture on prayer he gave them of all things…a prayer. It was short. It was simple. It was a framework to begin with to instruct us in prayer.
Many effective prayers in the gospels were short. The leper prayed: “If you will, you can make me clean.” Friends brought a paralytic to Jesus and said nothing. They only brought him before Jesus. The tax collector prayed “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
So don’t be concerned with the number of words or the right words. It is better to pray short with heart than long without heart. Just pursue stillness and practice simplicity. Before you know it you’ll be lifting heavier weight in the prayer room.
— Excerpt from the BELIEVE Study Series by Randy Freeze