There is perhaps nothing I feel more uncomfortable teaching than prayer. If you were to list my spiritual gifts in order, the gift of prayer might eke out the gift of tongues, but that would be about it.
That said, my experience as a pastor has been that most of those I meet feel similarly. And strangely enough, my experience has been that those who do have the gift of prayer are rarely able to meaningfully connect with and teach us regular folks about praying. Maybe it’s like expecting a chef to be able to explain to an anorexic why food is worth eating. It sounds like a simple enough thing to do, but because of the different wiring, the communication barrier can be so high that getting one over it is a rare feat.
So, I speak to you (likely) as someone on your side of that barrier: as a fellow prayer anorexic. But I want to share with you about the size of the fruit on the other side of those Jericho walls. I believe God has shown them to me, if ever so briefly.
The insight God gave me over the past several months is connected with this fact: one of the most remarkable turns Jesus makes in the New Testament is that he calls God “Father.” Jesus does this all the time. In fact, it is so familiar to us now that most of us miss how shocking it was for Jesus to calls the God of the Universe “Daddy.” In the Old Testament, there were hints of God being called Father. In one of the famous Messianic passages in Isaiah (9:6), the promised son is called “Everlasting Father.” Hosea, along with other prophets speaks of God as a Father and Israel as his children. But at no point in the Old Testament (correct me if I’m wrong!), is God prayed to as “Father” and certainly God is never called “Daddy.”
In Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life, Miller points out this simple truth and then bolsters it with admonitions that fit hand in glove with that truth. Miller cajoles us: “Come messy,” “Come overwhelmed with life,” “Come with a wandering mind, “Don’t be embarrassed,” “Be helpless.”
This profound truth (Daddy?!) coupled with a freeing exhortation (come messy?!) struck me right in the heart. Frankly, the God I had increasingly found myself coming to in prayer was dominated by his attributes of sovereignty, omnipotence, and omniscience (all of which are true). He was even loving and merciful, but more as a disposition toward the world than as it actually pertained to me and my relationship with him. As a result, my prayers over the years had become more and more edited, stilted and stifled. The circle of things I (unconsciously) believed God cared about in my life became smaller and smaller. Before prayers were even prayed, I unconsciously filtered them to see if they were up to snuff with what I thought God would care about. What a foolish child I am!
Listen to this simple truth: when Jesus calls us to come to our Daddy in prayer like a child (Matthew 7), he really means that we ought to ask like children: full of belief and expectation. God is not impressed with our overly sophisticated prayers! And your prayer life, like mine, may well be shriveling up as a result of it.
I pray that you would have courage with me to march around those walls until they fall down and not be comfortable on this side of the Jordan, eating table scraps off stones in the desert. There’s fruit in the Promised Land, grapes so large their clusters have to be toted on poles between two men. Come, taste and see they bounty of your Daddy’s love. Come hungry. Come messy. Come as a child.