Has Anyone Ever Taught You How to Pray?You might have seen the 2013 movie, Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock. In it she plays Dr Ryan Stone, an astronaut, cast adrift in deep space after the Hubble Space Telescope she’s been working on is hit by debris. The space shuttle she has disembarked from suffers catastrophic damage. All the crew are dead save for the astronaut, Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney) who is tethered to Dr Stone outside of the spacecraft.
They make a plan to reach an International Space Station but time is running out. Kowalski makes a heroic decision to cut Stone free, knowing there’s not enough oxygen for both of them to survive. One moment in the film still lingers for me: Stone is floating alone in deep space, with no bearings except for glimpses of Earth. Her situation seems utterly hopeless. Very quietly, through gulps of precious oxygen, she says, “I’d say a prayer for myself but I’ve never prayed in my life - nobody ever taught me how.” Does this resonate with you? Has anybody ever taught you how to pray?
The Lord’s PrayerOne of the best and most powerful parts of Prayer and the Voice of God is in chapter 6 where the authors break down The Lord’s Prayer and show us in greater depth what it is saying and how it teaches us to pray. This is the bit of the New Testament where Jesus literally teaches his disciples to pray.
The authors go through the prayer line by line digging out rich insight into what Jesus actually meant by each sentence. In my small group this became a wonderful opportunity to learn together the riches of a prayer that is so often on our lips in church, and may be one we’ve known since childhood, but not grasped the full meaning of before. There were life-changing moments for all of us. The authors summarise:
The Lord’s Prayer is a marvellous template for our requests to God. It homes in on God’s desires - on what is important to him and therefore what should be important to us. It focuses on his plans - on the coming kingdom of Jesus the Messiah. It teaches us that God desires and plans:
- for his name to be revered and honoured as the mighty Saviour;
- for his kingdom to come in all its fullness;
- for his kingdom to extend here and now throughout the world in the lives of people as they submit to his rule;
- for his people to taste the blessings of that kingdom now;
- to forgive our sins and for us to live by forgiveness;
- to deliver us from the evil one and his testings.
Though the basic human prayer is “Help!” or even better, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13) The Lord's Prayer shows us that God has so much more planned for us to be a part of after rescue from sin and darkness.
The PsalmsAnother vitally important place where we learn about prayer is in the Psalms. Eugene H. Peterson writes, “Most Christians for most of the Christian centuries have learned how to pray by praying the Psalms.” (p. 773 The Message Study Bible) Since becoming an avid reader of Christian books I’ve seen this idea written down numerous times but I’ve never actually had it said to me. And I wonder, is that because we’ve stopped praying the Psalms regularly as we ought? They are often referred to as ‘The Prayer Book’ of the Bible and give us some seriously robust language to talk to God with. The authors use the Psalms to show the raw emotion of the speaker and their ultimate dependence on God, nearly always displayed after working through a problem. See Psalm 89 for a good example, beautifully unpacked by the authors on pages 56-58.
No Special Technique Required: Attitude Is EverythingJensen and Payne write “The Bible is not very big on technique when it comes to prayer because ultimately prayer is based on and expresses arelationship with God as our Father, and relationships don’t tend to work by technique.” (p.89) That should be a relaxing thought. We’re adopted sons and daughters. We’re talking to a perfect parent who loves us and made us and who died for us to open the way for us to talk to him. But therein lies our problem: We’re imperfect children. Our sinfulness is the number one thing that gets in the road of learning how to pray, doing it with regularity and joy and growing closer in our relationship to Christ.
I’ll never forget one of the first meetings I had with our new pastor who met us in our home and closed by saying: “It’ll take some time for us to get to know each other - we tell ourselves so many lies - it can be hard to break through all that.” Wow, I thought, could he see straight through me? I felt challenged and refreshed by the truth of that sentence. We do tell ourselves a lot of lies. And the only antidote to them is found in the pages of the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ, who gives us truth that will set us free.
After reading this far you may feel moved to pray:
Thank you for making us in your image, a little lower than the angels, made for you! Dear Lord forgive us for not living up to all that you require of us.
Thank you especially for sending Jesus so that I can reach out to you and ask you to help me. Please help me to live with Jesus as my master day by day.
Thank you that we can talk to you and ask you for things and work through all that is troubling us. Please help us to model our prayer life on Jesus and the Psalms.
We are sorry for the times we do not pray. Please forgive us.
Please help us to be a model of prayerfulness for those around us, may we support and uphold those we know who need our prayers.
May we learn to depend on you Lord for every breath.
Please refresh us by your Spirit and through the words of the Bible.
Katie loves writing and has had snippets published in Womankind Magazine and the Guardian Weekly. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church, All Souls Leichhardt and loves being part of the Leichhardt community. She is married to Andrew and they have two school-age daughters and a young son.