Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Isaiah 37:14-16 ESV
Prayer is simultaneously the easiest and hardest thing to do. Though I believe this to be true, we ought not allow the reality of those extremes to lessen the impact of prayer. There is, it seems, almost nothing in the Christian life that brings us into the center of our faith, into the “sweet spot” of our relationship with God, like prayer.
As a brief encouragement today I’d like to offer one piece of advice that doesn’t come from me as much as from the numerous examples of prayer that the Scriptures offer us. And let me be clear, I don’t believe there is a prescriptive set of words that tell us what to pray. I believe that in Jesus’ model prayer we find the elements that should be present in prayer, not the specific words. As I said yesterday (read here), I don’t believe that our prayers should sound foreign coming out of our mouths, the words should very much sound indigenous to our own tongues. This kind of familiarity will be spawned from knowing the parts of prayer elementally, not necessarily verbally.
If there is a “safe” place to start prayer it is with God. Jesus began His model prayer with the familiar words, “Our Father, who is in heaven…”. This is more than just an introduction, it is a statement of God’s character, His position, and implicitly the way that He sees us. In the prayer that King Hezekiah offers, we see this same beginning. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus identifies God as “Father”, which contains volumes of truth by itself.
Perhaps a reason for this, at least one reason that makes sense to me, is that when we begin with God we set the tone for everything else we will say. If we were to burst into prayer (and indeed do this) beginning with our list of needs and requests and wants, we start to build a mountain of things that are beyond us and bigger than us. Often, by the time we “get around” to addressing God as the Meet-er of those needs we are so exhausted and overwhelmed by the enormity of our list that we have a hard time focusing on who He is. But, when we begin with God, we make a conscious decision that the first mountain we are going to “build” in our hearts is Him. When we acknowledge who He is and what He has done and how large and beautiful and powerful we know Him to be through the Scriptures and through our own histories, we lay much more fertile soil for the faith we ought and need to pray with. In fact, we would be wise to make sure that we spend enough time immersing ourselves in God Himself, and who He is, that no matter what needs we bring to Him He will always loom larger in our hearts and minds.
I challenge you to pay attention to the first mountain that you build as you pray. Is it the mountain of needs that weigh heavy on you, or is it the mountain of resource that is found in person and work of Jesus Christ?
I offer this powerful quote by CS Lewis to finish:
The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.