The first prayer conference that I attended was in 1987. It was a cross-denominational event. Many people spoke at this conference, and each had much to say about the role of prayer. Some of it was helpful. Much of it was clichéd. Most of it was hard, at least for me.
Here is what I mean by hard. One man told the conference that you have to develop your prayer life such that you spend one hour each day in prayer. This speaker said it was easy to do when you use The Lord’s Prayer as an outline. That sounded almost catechetical. The Lord’s Prayer as an outline was not a new thought, but eating up an hour with it seemed like just putting in my time. Another speaker said the best way to pray is to get up early in the morning and go to your “prayer closet with your prayer list.” The prayer closet could be a room in your house or it could be a shed in the backyard. Continuing, he said, “Make certain that you have no distractions.” Another suggested that you have two chairs in the room. As you pray, you sit in one with the other empty. The empty chair is where you imagine Jesus to be seated.
All of these approaches to developing a prayer life seemed hopeful to me. I tried them but something was missing. Personally, order and patience aren’t my strong suit. So how was I to start my own prayer life when the suggestions that worked for so many others, were difficult for me? Then I remembered the main character in the movie, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye was walking down the road with his milk cart, alone. Yet he was talking out loud. He was having a conversation with God. That is prayer too. That fits. And it describes the relational character of prayer. This is conversational prayer.
Conversational prayer is not prayer with others. Conversational prayer is very personal. It is one-on-one. It may be formal. It may be informal. It is an often overlooked expression to God of the faith He has given to a person. It is an often overlooked discipline of maturing faith. Conversational prayer is a mind’s-eye conversation with the One who loves us more than we love ourselves.
In conversational prayer, one can be honest. Initially such honesty is difficult. But as the conversation continues and as the Word is embraced, such honesty is not risky. Instead, the place of honesty becomes welcomed with eagerness. This is because in conversational prayer one begins to recognize the critical role of God’s grace in one’s life. The more that God’s grace is realized, the more one relaxes. In this kind of prayer, no one needs to be impressed. It is just you and God. He knows all about you, and, still, He loves you more than you can know.
There is yet another advantage to conversational prayer. It will teach one to listen. Listening is not easy. But when we do a strong statement is being made about the one with whom we are talking. First of all it says that we are interested in hearing what someone has to say. As we read the Word and converse with God, He has things to say. So we listen. What God has to say means something. Conversational prayer can be sustained throughout the rhythm of day.
Now let me be clear. Praying early in the morning is good. Using the Lord’s Prayer as an outline helps to keep issues on the table that may otherwise be set aside. Luther, it is said, prayed for three hours each day, and that because he had so much work to do. That is a proper priority. That is commitment. To be sure, there are tools and styles of prayer that are helpful to some and perhaps even to many, but not to everyone equally. Each of these tools needs to be sorted out, embraced or set aside by each disciple. But the only tool that is helpful and essential (and required for all Christian prayer) is the Word. What a marvelous God we have who has not only created us but who also has redeemed us in His Son. It is this God who wants to listen to us, even more than we care to talk. He will listen to us any way we come to Him.
By: Rev. Steve Misch
Mission & Ministry Facilitator, Area A