They sell whole books of ’em.
Talking with God is a tricky thing when you aren’t much good at talking with anyone. Loads of people have great difficulty when they have to keep up their end of a conversation, any conversation. Unless they can keep their answers to simple yeses and nos, or platitudes which they’re comfortable saying, they’re gonna fumble. Sometimes they’re tongue-tied. Other times there’s just a lot of stammering.
It’d be nice if they had a script.
That’s why rote prayers appeal to them. Thing is, a lot of us don’t always wanna pray rote prayers. We wanna say specific things to God. But we struggle to get the words out, y’know?
Well if you’re one of those people, relax. Load up your word-processing app, or grab a pen and paper, and start writing your prayers. Stop thinking of prayer as a phone conversation, and start thinking of it as texting. You can text, right? Then you can pray.
Write out your end of the conversation. Or write out a monologue: A whole prayer of your own thoughts and feelings and requests and praise. Write what you’d pray. Then pray it; aloud or silent, up to you.
Didn’t realize this was an option, didja? Lots of Christians haven’t. And lots of Christians have; where’d you think all our prayer books came from? People have been writing out their prayers since the bible. It’s why we have prayers in the bible. Anyway, it’s something you can do too. If you struggle to pray aloud, start writing to God.
Getting you started.
This isn’t a hypothetical exercise: “Write out a prayer as if you were writing to God.” You are writing to God. This is prayer. God will read this.
Yeah, God will also watch you compose it, just as he does when he sees in your mind what you’re figuring out what to say next. (So he’ll know whether you’re being honest with him.) Still isn’t an exercise: It’s not a way to practice prayer, then pray “for real” later. This is prayer. It’s just as valid as speaking to God, as reciting a rote prayer, as meditation or fasting or any other form of prayer you tackle. It’s your offering to God, as true as any other prayer. So don’t take it lightly.
I mentioned the bible. You’ll notice the Psalms are written prayers. So are a lot of the things in the Prophets. I know; people tend to treat ’em as if they were spoken aloud first, and then written down into books. Wrong they are. Most of them began as writings. So look at the bible’s examples.
Check out prayer books. Check out rote prayers. People have deliberately written out prayers for other people to pray. How’d they do? What topics to they pray for, which you oughta pray for? Do they quote the bible?—and how do they do it? In what ways do they praise God? Is there anything they do which you don’t—which you haven’t even thought of? Anything you might want to give a try?
Try not to plagiarize, of course. Nor follow someone else’s style too closely. Remember, when you’re communicating with God, he doesn’t care to hear your interpretation of some other saint. He wants you. He wants to hear what’s in your heart. (Pray anything else and it’s hypocrisy.) There needs to be a great deal of unfiltered, unembellished you in your prayers. Get personal. Get uninhibited. (You don’t need to share these prayers with anyone, y’know.) Be real with God.
Getting better at it.
Ever notice how often spoken prayers tend to ramble? Or get repetitive, or insert lots of filler words like—
- Father God
- Lord Jesus
- Praise God hallelujah
—and the more Pentecostal you get, or the more bible verses you can quote back at God, the longer the fillers get. People who don’t have a lot to say, or can’t come up with anything better, tend to fall back on fillers. People who aren’t strong writers tend to do that too.
But most writers recognize the benefits of economizing words. Yeah, it produces shorter prayers, but so what? Longer isn’t better. Concise language is potent. A written prayer, when it doesn’t ramble, keeps us focused and organized. It gets to the point.
Praying silently also tends to ramble. Our minds naturally wander. It’s why I remind people to pray aloud. Not that the mind doesn’t wander when we write out our prayers—and it should; it’s part of the writing process. But the great thing about writing is the ability to edit. Cross out anything which isn’t working. Use that backspace key. Fix it till it expresses just what you want to say to God.
If you keep your old written prayers, you can look back at what you’ve prayed in the past. Maybe pray ’em again. Maybe revise them: Take back certain things that you naïvely prayed for, and ask for better things. That’s growth and maturity. It’s good.
Phrase things better. Spoken prayers are like going with our first draft—and some first drafts are embarrassing. If only we could’ve said it better! Well, when we write to God, we can say it better. We can keep tweaking our words till these prayers get us right. (And if we remember what we’ve written, that’s always material we can say in any future spoken prayers.)
As you practice praying your written prayers, you’ll find you also get better with your spoken prayers—and your public prayers. When you’re in a prayer group, and tend to be unable to contribute when you’re called upon to pray, you now have a notebook or a computer full of prayers. Pull one out and pray it. Nobody will (and nobody should) have a problem with that. In fact, you’ll find most of ’em really appreciate it. ’Cause compared to most extemporaneous prayers, written prayers don’t ramble, get to the point, and are well-phrased. As they should be when we work on ’em.