If you can imagine the sermon on the subject of prayer, I think I have heard it. If you have heard of the book on prayer, I think I have it in my library. Many times, the subject of prayer is made attractive by describing its power and Biblical basis, while, at the same time, it is made unavailable by the approach taught. For instance: "For power in prayer, one hour is the minimum!" "For power in prayer, physical discomfort is necessary to keep you awake." "For power in prayer, you must 'travail' as a woman would in childbirth." "For power in prayer, you need to be on a mountain or in a cubbyhole." "For power in prayer, you must pray loudly (quietly, together, etc.)." All of these prior requirements push prayer further from me. Sometimes I lose track of which rule might be missing.
Once, while speaking at a conference in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, the customary pre-program prayer of the speakers was intersected by an interesting cultural experience. Being one of only two speakers from the USA, I was considered to "know all things" about American religious culture.
As I approached the room, several of the other speakers from Africa came rushing up to me to ask me what was going on. They led me to the room where we normally prayed. In it was a choir from a school in the USA that would be singing in the evening session. My friends said, "Look at that. Listen to that. What is going on?" As I peeked in to see the source of the sound, I assured them that everything was OK. They were simply observing a cultural form of prayer from one segment of American church life. The choir continued to scream and beat the air like boxers as they faced the wall in a back-to-center circle.
"But why do they look so unhappy...so agonized?" I assured them that it was all part of their cultural approach and that nothing was basically "wrong" with the people. They simply had a narrow model of what prayer could be.
Prayer does not have to be narrowed by guilt, fear program or culture.
WHAT CAN PRAYER BE?
Apparently, Jesus did not overtly display his prayer life which prompted the apostles to ask him to teach them how to pray. Could it be that Jesus' conversations with his Father were so natural the apostles didn't even notice that he was praying? Could it be that his most intensive moments with the Father were private ones when he escaped to lonely places and the disciples couldn't find him?
Surely prayer is part of God's attempt to restore the fellowship of Eden when he walked with Adam in the cool of the evening. I doubt that the conversation in the garden included much of what we now call prayer. Would Adam have yelled at God? Would Adam have screamed for God to come near? Would Adam have bowed his head and closed his eyes to validate the conversation? I think not!
We know that God is closer to us than a brother. Indeed, through His Holy Spirit He dwells in us. What, in that scenario, guides our relationship and our form of prayer? We know from Jesus that God is not impressed with repetition as a method nor is he responsive to Prayers for public consumption or as an expression of arrogance or greed. What then might He want?
Surely, he simply wants us to talk to Him. Fellowship demands that the method of conversation result from the degree of closeness felt. I expect God wants us to be honest in our prayer and comfortable in our own language. I don't think fellowship with God requires some sort of physical posturing in order to be effective. I'm sure that He appreciates our believing that He is and that He is waiting to reward our belief.
From the words of Jesus, we know that God cares about "private time" with us ("closet") and promises to reward us for that. It is also obvious that he wants us to understand and honor him as God, to submit ourselves to him ("thy kingdom come") and to seek his intervention in our world.
God obviously doesn't want us to approach him greedily ("daily bread") and does want us to adopt his attitude of forgiveness toward others. He wants us to be concerned about anything that would break our fellowship and be willing to talk to him about it ("deliver us from evil"). Jesus' teaching on prayer is a glorious model of simplicity. Finally, if I read Jesus correctly, God wants us to pray in keeping with what Jesus would pray ("in my name").<
So, what should our conclusions be? What physical position should I be in when I pray' Any position you wish. At what volume should I pray? At whatever volume you feel is "close." Where should I pray? Wherever you are. How long should I pray? For as long as you want to talk to your creator and best friend, perhaps "without ceasing." Isn't there something I can do to improve my chances of prayer being answered? Not likely. He is hard to fool. Just love Him and let Him love you. Will he listen to me if I'm not perfect? God has a centuries-long track record of listening to people with mixed motives. If you are talking to Him, it is a good indication that your heart is turned His direction. The beautiful thing about prayer is that it moves you to be more like Him. Doesn't this make prayer too simple and childlike?
Amen, amen, amen!