When I was a little kid in church, my teachers in Sunday School gave us a simple recipe on how to pray.
“Bow your head. Close your eyes. Talk to God.”
The goal of this may have been to teach us to respect God. Maybe it was to keep us from poking each other, or from being distracted. I don’t think it is a bad thing to teach to kids. In fact, I still do that sometimes when I pray. It is one thing for prayer to begin there. I’m not sure if it can stay there forever if prayer is going to be real. Maybe that’s what so many of us have been confused about. I think a lot of people are like me in that you have asked or are currently asking,
How do I talk to God in a way that is real?
Here is what God is teaching me: Stop sanitizing your prayers. What does it mean to sanitize your prayer? To talk to God using phrases that mean nothing to the rest of your life, and the only reason you say them is because your uncle said them when he prayed at church on Sundays. What else does it look like to sanitize your prayers? I think it is when we remove all emotion from what we pray, and act as if those emotions are unacceptable for God. What else is sanitizing your prayer? When we only talk to God about things that are church specific.
We might pour some Purell on our prayers because we don’t want to insult God. It could be because we feel that God isn’t very interested in the rest of what goes on in our lives besides Sundays at church. We might even sanitize our prayers because we think that what we really want to bring to God is unacceptable to Him. So we clean up our prayers. And we pray in generalities. We pray about an hour each week that is disconnected from everything else we do. Finally, we ask God to forgive our sins, say thank you, and hang up until the next time we talk. Now that we’re finished talking to God, we take a sigh of relief and feel slightly guilty that we could only muster up 30 seconds – 2 minutes worth of material. What was that thing Paul said about praying without ceasing? That must be for the “incredibly-spiritual” people.
This is where my prayers were for a long time. I’m not really a sensei on praying. I have learned one thing though that has changed what I pray and how I pray. I decided to give God what is inside of me.
Do you give God what you wish was inside of you, or what actually is inside of you?
What is inside of me isn’t pretty. There is bitterness, selfishness, lust, anger, arrogance, pride, impatience, a lack of trust, and discouragement within me. Sometimes it is just one or a few of those things. Sometimes, it is all of them. So what? Does God not want to rescue me? Does God not want to save me from the real things I face everyday. Does God not want to save you from yourself? Is God too busy or distracted? I don’t think so. And I don’t think God is afraid of my sin. Jesus went to the cross for my sins, and He doesn’t want me to carry those around.
So what will I give God? What I wish was inside of me, or what is actually inside of me? I’m choosing to give God what is there. And I’ve found this to be true. God does great work inside of real people who have real problems. There is more to prayer than bowing your head, closing your eyes, and talking to God. Prayer is a place where God invites us to bring our greatest sins, doubts, frustrations, pain, and fears. If you don’t believe me, read the Psalms. Prayer is a place where God welcomes our smiles and our tears.
What is inside of you? I hope you give what is inside of you to God. You don’t have to sanitize your prayers.