By José Santana
As one of the pillars of the Christian life, prayer is the way I--as a part of creation--communicate with my Creator. Theoretically, it is through prayer that my relationship with Him should be nurtured and sustained. However, prayer can often be puzzling, dry, and full of doubt. At least, that is certainly the case for me. Often times as I sit to pray privately, I find myself questioning whether the words that flow from my inner self are actually received by God. I wonder if I'm doing it correctly, if I'm asking the right things.
Can He even hear me?
Prayer can also be something that is awkward and difficult in my work as a campus minister. I am frequently in situations where I lead prayer in a public environment in which not all of the people gathered share the same tradition and practices around prayer. In these settings, I stumble to find the right words that will ensure people from all faith traditions will feel comfortable.
Amidst all of my struggles in personal and public prayer, I am comforted knowing that Jesus does give instruction around prayer. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus instructs his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
The instruction that Jesus provides on prayer in this passage is a reminder that even though prayer is my own conversation with God, engaging in prayer requires some sort of direction. As Jesus proceeds to teach the disciples the “Lord’s Prayer”
he lays out a formula for what prayer can look like.
A few years ago I heard a priest give a homily on developing a formula for our own prayer and he used author Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (2012) as the guide for his formula. In the book, Lamott proposes three basic themes for our prayer—to ask for help, to give thanks, and offer wonder and praise in response to the world in which we live. The priest offered one variation to her formula, however.
Instead of praying help, thanks, wow, he suggested that we pray wow, thanks, help.
For him, it is recognition of the wonder and amazement of God that opens us to thanking Him in both good and bad times and then eventually allows us to surrender our pride, to ask for help for the things we need most.
Jesus himself displays this in the Lord’s Prayer by beginning, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
The first action He exemplifies for His disciples to take in their prayer is to praise. Modeling that, I’ve come to realize that, when praying, before anything I must humble myself before God who already knows what I need most. What appeals to me most about this initial act of humble praise is that for me the dryness and doubt of my prayer is often the result of uncertainty about what God will actually do for me, and whether my supplications are actually necessary in the first place.
The praise helps me to recognize and focus on whom it is that I am approaching before I make my requests.
I have used this formula to direct my own prayer ever since listening to the homily, and have found it to be fruitful. Instead of trying to change the will of God, I try to come to know God. I ready myself to receive His grace and the peace of whatever comes my way. In public settings, this has helped me to focus on engaging in prayer with the frame of mind offered by Christ, and not on saying a “good prayer.”
While there is certainly many ways prayer can be done,
beginning my prayer with contemplation on the person(s) I am before, has allowed me to worry less on the power of my prayer and more on the relationship I have with my creator.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
José Santana is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, currently pursuing a Master's in Theological Studies at the University of Dayton. After working for several years in marketing and sports, his passion for theology and ministry brought him back to school to study and work as a Graduate Assistant in Campus Ministry. He most enjoys watching sports, playing basketball, traveling, and enjoying good food in the company of friends.