I have this vivid memory of a prayer night I participated in back in my college days–so vivid that all these years later, I still remember it. We were all down on our knees huddled together closely in a circle. We were slowly making our way around, with each person praying about whatever was on their hearts. It was a little intimidating hearing everyone’s prayers. I wondered if my prayer would be as good or as thoughtful, if I would be perceived as being “spiritual” enough or deep enough.
My turn came and I did my best to pray in earnest, to really lay my heart out there as I prayed for others and for God’s kingdom to grow. I worked not to use filler words, or to insert too many “Father, God” phrases. I tried to pray long and meaningfully. When I was finished, I felt sorta proud, like I had done a good job and honored the Father.
And so it continued around the circle, with each of us striving in much the same way. There were lots of words, lots of great prayers. But there was also a lot of comparing going on, as many of us weighed where we stacked up against each other.
Then, toward the end of the circle, we came to a new believer. It was her turn to pray. And while I can’t remember her exact words, what I clearly remember was her posture. Her prayer went something like this:
“Lord, um. Hi. I don’t really know what to say. I’m, uh…like, really new at this (long pause). I’m really humbled to be around all of these great women. They, uh, they have these amazing prayers and this amazing faith in You, Father God.” There was another really long pause. Quiet tears began to splash silently onto her tightly folded hands.
She continued, “I’m just so grateful to You. Like, I can’t believe You chose me to be yours (another longer pause). I, um, I just really want to honor You, God. Please help me to grow. I know my prayer isn’t, uh, very great, but I want You to know that I, well, I love You. Amen.”
Her heart was humble. Her gratitude was palpable. Her words were simple and few. There was no eloquence, no meaningful exegesis. But her words cut me to the quick. Their heartfelt simplicity highlighted how foolish my need to impress was. Of all the other prayers around me, hers was the one that I was most impacted by.
Those of us who would count ourselves as “spiritually mature” gathered at the end to discuss the night, and we all landed back at this one woman’s simple, heart-felt prayer, challenged and set free by it all at once. This young Christian changed my prayers forever moving forward.
I still love to pray with other people. The way they view and interact with God grows my perspective and helps me to stretch and keep smashing the tiny boxes I’m inclined to put God into for my own sense of comfort. Mostly I’ve learned that laying out the honesty of my heart out before the Lord, whether alone or in front of others, is a profound and beautiful thing.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT There are two scriptures that really drive these lessons home for me. The first is in Proverbs 10:19: “The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.” This reminds me to make space to listen to God, both in prayer and in Bible study. It reminds me I don’t need to have the last word or the most “impacting” word—that’s a place best reserved for the Father. My job is to be genuine.
The other scripture comes directly from Jesus:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breas