((This is an excerpt from a Bible study I’ve written: “G.R.O.W.  U.P.: Six Disciplines in Sowing Spiritual Maturity”)).

James 5:13-16…”Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing psalms.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

photo cred: http://www.mygraceumc.com

Prayer.  Every book in the Bible devotes some portion of itself to prayer.  From Genesis to Revelation, you will see something mentioned about prayer or as a prayer.  In fact, the whole Book of Psalms is made up of prayers and songs!  Some books dedicate whole chapters or sections to the topic or discipline of prayer.  Throughout the Gospels, it is documented that Jesus took time away for Himself to pray.  We will find prayers of thanksgiving and praise, prayers of distress and laments for God’s help, prayers of intercession for the deliverance from calamity or demonic possession, prayers for healing, prayers for needs to be met, prayers seeking Gods guidance or direction, and prayers after prayers after prayers for an unlimited number of human conditions – physical, emotional, spiritual.

Prayer is the discipline and function that threads through and binds other spiritual disciplines together to produce a beautiful life-tapestry that glorifies God.  Prayer is the line of direct communication with our Father.  It is a powerful tool, it is a privilege, and it is proven; however, it is also and often misunderstood, neglected, or misused by a large number of Christians.  I remember a season early in my marriage with Mr. Husband when I was jealous for his attention.  In my mind’s imagination, we would meet each other at home after a long, driven day at work and collapse in the solace of each other’s company.  After a brief recap of the day’s events, we would prepare dinner together and sit at the table with our five, very well-mannered ((ahem…cough, cough)) children and enjoy a peaceful, uplifting meal with conversation.  Once the kids were all bathed and tucked into bed by the respectable time of 8:30 p.m., and without a single child’s protest, Mr. Husband and I would sit on the couch with worship music playing softly in the background.  We would talk about our hopes and needs, read some Scripture, and seal every evening with praying together.  Yes, I know.  I hear you laughing and humph-ing.  Perhaps you are sighing with chagrin because you have had the same delusion…uh…I mean – image – in your mind.

Our dining table…it has hosted thousands of meals and about as many belching contests. Now, with the kids grown, it mainly just collects stuff.

The reality for me did not match the expectations…not even remotely.  Instead, we often found ourselves bringing the day’s frustrations home and allowing it to spill into our family interactions.  We often met without words and went straight to the tasks of managing a home and raising five children.  I cooked dinner by myself because – honestly – I don’t share my kitchen easily.  Even though we did succeed at intentionally eating at the table as a family most nights, our precious children’s behavior did not match that of the children I envisioned.  Mr. Husband and I would often find ourselves wedged in the middle of a belching competition at the dinner table, or an argument over whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher, or a hashing out of the day’s events.  HA!  Then bath and bedtime would come.   Whoo!  By the time we wrestled with kids over who was going to bathe first, wash your hair, USE SOAP, quit popping your brother with the towel!, who got water all over the floor?!?, get into bed, stop picking on your little sister, no you cannot have a another drink of water, get into bed, I love you too, get back in that bed!, turn the light off, stay in bed, I hear you talking and quit playing because you have to get sleep before school tomorrow, don’t make me come in there again…Mr. Husband and I were ready to retreat into ourselves.  I would go my way in the house, and he would go his.  This routine persisted for several years until I found myself utterly isolated from my husband and desperately craving fellowship with him.  I remember distinctly the day God spoke to my heart so clearly about this.

Even though they are all grown up, we still can’t persuade them to get sufficient sleep, and they still belch and pick on each other. They ARE better about using soap, though.

At a friend’s house, I was lamenting the condition of my marriage and how I was jealous for Mr. Husband’s attention, but I could not compete with where his focus was in that season.  God heard my petition and spoke truth through my friend.  She said, “Tammy, the thing you are wanting from your husband is the very thing that God desires from you.  Just as you want to take your hand and turn your husband’s focus to you, God has His finger under your chin and wants to turn your attention from your husband to Himself.”  Wow…immediate conviction.

This is a pearl of truth, precious friend.  God desires to have a relationship with us.  I believe Scripture supports that He does not desire our religion, but our very and whole selves.  He wants to spend time with us…He wants to hear from us…He wants to speak to us…He wants to love on us.  He wants an open and dedicated line of communication with us, which is facilitated through His Word and through prayer…prayer that sounds like us.  Even though God is omniscient, He revels in hearing us verbalize our concerns, praises, needs, frustrations, victories, and doubts in our individual, distinctive voice.  What am I suggesting?  God sees our every behavior, hears our thoughts, knows our attitudes, and listens to every word we think and speak.

Consequently, He knows our vernacular, but does He “recognize” the way we speak to Him in prayer as the same way we speak in the course of our daily life?  I am not suggesting that God has trouble recognizing some of us when we pray; rather, I propose that many of us are ourselves with people in the way we speak, but when it comes time to talk to God, we have difficulty finding our voice.  Many experience anxiety because they feel they should pray formulaic words and phrases that “are sure to reach the ears of God,” others believe their inflection should suddenly take on some serious and “holy” tone, and there are those who communicate with ease to the people around them but absolutely become tongue-tied when approaching the Throne of Grace in prayer.

My war room…er…closet corner.

Allow me to exhort you to put aside every anxiety and every preconceived idea that prayer should sound the same universally or generically.  We are each far from generic.  Release thoughts and belief systems and self-doubt that hinder your prayer life, and permit yourself to be you when you talk to God.  Present your very self to Him:  your words, your voice, your personality.  It took me many years to discover my personal sanctuary and comfort in talking to God and listening for His voice…especially since I was raised in a religion that only prayed memorized, recited prayers and doxologies.  I tried different styles and voices of prayer I had witnessed in the women around me as a new Believer, but none ever came with ease.  It kind of felt like putting on someone else’s tennis shoes…nothing ever really fit or felt comfortable.

Dear friend…just as we desire for our children, our spouse, our friends, and our peers to talk to us openly and honestly, so God desires for His children to speak with Him.  He desires our words of prayer coming out of an honest, open, and surrendered soul.  When we pray like that, we will pray with ease and confidence, and it will not sound carbon-copied or strained or rehearsed to the ears of God.  Your candid and sincere prayers are an offering and a fragrance to Him.