It’s tempting to try praying like Bible heroes and religious leaders, but the best way to pray starts within.
Posted in , Aug 29, 2021
I’ve learned a lot about prayer from other people. I’m sure my first prayers were modeled and guided by my Christian parents. My children’s church leader, Mrs. Reed, helped me as I first knelt for prayer at a “penitent form.” In my youth I was inspired and motivated by the prayers of pastors and later by seminary professors. I devoured books on prayer by E. M. Bounds and others. And I owe much to the monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani in rural Kentucky for lessons in silence and solitude.
But I’ve learned over the years the value of praying like no one else.
Sure, as a young man, I aspired to pray like “Praying Hyde,” the missionary who spent whole nights delivering impassioned prayer. Or George Müller, who started schools and orphanages throughout England and refused to fundraise, choosing to pray instead. (He claimed to have had more than 5,000 requests answered on the very day he prayed about them.) Or Martin Luther, who once referred to his busy schedule on the following day, saying, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
That’s the ticket, I thought! I want to pray like them.
And I tried. Oh, how I tried.
But while I enjoyed some small successes here and there, I never became Luther, Hyde or Muller. Not even close. I felt much more kinship to Peter, James and John who, when Jesus urged them to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, felt a sudden and irresistible need for a nap.
Over time, however, I realized that despite their failures in Gethsemane, those disciples did become men of prayer. But Peter didn’t pray like James. And John didn’t pray like Peter. Come to think of it, Abraham, who bargained with God like the middle eastern chieftain he was, didn’t pray like David, who sang many of his prayers. Even Mary, the teenage mother of Jesus, sang her Magnificat in a much different style than her own Son’s high priestly prayer of John 17.
Taken together, those biblical examples suggest to me that I can pray like no one else. I can pray when I’m rushed or stressed. I can pray big… and I can pray small. I can shout my prayers or I can sing my prayers. I can use technology and I can pray unplugged, in complete silence and solitude.
I’ve discovered that praying like no one else, in my case at least, is not a life of checklists, obligations, agendas and accomplishments that imitate the heroes of the Bible or the great saints of the past. It’s a dance. A journey. A trial-and-error process that has allowed me to find a simple rhythm in my daily life that becomes self-propagating: the more I pray like me—and no one else—the more I pray.