“Teach me to pray.”
I softly utter these words as I sit at my desk in the still of the morning. It is a prayer that I have returned to often in my journey of faith. As I sit in my quiet house with a fresh steaming cup of coffee, I return to this prayer again. I am not where I once was, but I am not where I hope to be either. I am in progress.
One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.Luke 11:1, NIV
I find myself in good company. The disciples made this same request of Jesus. Countless folks down through the ages have lifted the same cry to him as well. It is the longing of the human heart to be at home with the heart of God.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.Psalm 42:1-2a
Prayer is so simple, yet I find that I tend to complicate it by making it about me. I also use it as a way to attempt to manipulate God so that I get what I feel I need.
Robert Mulholland Jr. writes in his book Invitation to a Journey,
We tend to think of prayer as something we do in order to produce the results we believe are needed, or, rather, to get God to produce the results. … As a result, our prayer tends to be a shopping list of things to be accomplished, an attempt to manipulate the symptoms of our lives without really entering into a deep, vital, transforming relationship with God in the midst of what we think we need and in the midst of the symptoms of our lives.
It is easy to reduce our times of prayer to merely attempting to convince God to give us what we want.
We have grown accustomed in our culture to getting everything immediately. Words like quick, instant access, microwavable, and faster are a daily part of our vocabulary. Today, you can even place your fast-food order online so that when you arrive, you don’t have to stand in line to order.
Therefore, we treat God in the same manner. “Lord, can I simply text my requests ahead so that we can expedite the delivery of whatever I feel I need?”
But getting stuff from God is not the goal at all.
The first and foremost purpose of prayer is to love on God—to worship him.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.Psalm 73:25-26
Prayer helps to develop this kind of depth and longing for God.
Secondly, through prayer, we become more attuned to the heart of God. Instead of telling God what he should be doing, we listen for what he wants and desires of us.
As we fall deeper in love with God and come to understand his heart better, we are prepared to go before God boldly with our requests, because our longings and desires will be in line with his heart. It will not be about getting what I want, but about inviting God to work in and through me to do what he wants.
So, here I sit before God in the peace of an early morning. Once again, I ask Jesus to teach me to pray. I take a deep breath and quietly settle in before my Lord and King. I lay aside all my wants and needs to love on God—thanking and praising him. The reality is this: he already knows what I need better than I do and is already working on it. I have nothing better to do with these moments than to worship him.