On Christian Life

How to pray pt 2

As a writer I am constantly tempted to use more words than necessary, especially when I’m excited about a topic. Even in conversation with someone I drift into passionate unnecessary descriptions. My words are like water breaking through a dam; once they find a crack they’re gushing out.

You know what I don’t get though? Why doesn’t this same verbosity apply to my prayer life? Ask me about politics, the bible, American football, professional wrestling or the best way to prepare squirrel, and you’ll probably get an earful. (Go ahead. I dare you to ask me about squirrel and noodle casserole.) But when I’m sitting in the presence of God, I’m stone silent.

It feels unfair to God. I’m sure there’s grace for me, but I think God deserves better from me. Actually, it’s not just my better that he deserves but my best. God deserves the best of my day, the best of my thoughts, and the best of my words. I don’t have to carefully curate my prayers. “Best” does not mean most poetic but rather most honest. To give God what he deserves, I have to surrender what keeps me from him. I have to pray in a way that thanks him, praises him, and submits to him.

We started our conversation on prayer last week talking about what prayer is: deliberate time with God. This week, I want to focus on those prayers that are the shortest and most powerful. These prayers come when we are most desperate. They come from the deep places of our souls, out of great need and fear. They come from deep emotion or physical pain. When we are at the end of our rope, they are the last gasp. When we are at the top of the mountain, they are the cry of exhausted triumph.

Maybe you’re like me and you use too many words. Friend, we don’t need many words. In fact, God often prefers the simplicity of our gasps and cries to our long-winded prayers. That’s not to say that God doesn’t desire more time with us. He does. It’s just that the kind of prayer God wants is one that’s from our hearts. Here are 3 simple prayers for you to try.

Help! (Matthew 14:30)—this is a deeply theological prayer. When aimed at the universe it’s like a shotgun blast randomly in the air. When aimed at a target, it hits on many points. In this case, God’s the target. Hit him with this prayer, and he hears your need. Not only does he hear your need, but he acknowledges that you’re confessing his ability to meet it. But wait – there’s more!

When you cry to God for help, you’re admitting you need him. If you’ve been around toddlers you know their tendency to want to do things for themselves. Friend, you’re no different. You’re a big toddler. You go through life thinking that you’ve got it handled. Then one day, if you haven’t already, you’ll realize that there are some problems you can’t solve. Only God can.

Who are you, Lord? (Acts 9:5)—this prayer comes when you’ve just met God, but you don’t yet know it. You suspect there is some cosmic purpose to your circumstances, that there is a plan in motion bigger than your own. When life shakes you to the core (e.g. losing a parent unexpectedly, losing your job, or facing colossal failure), you get angry or sad and you shout at God, “Who are you to let this happen? Who are you to interrupt my plans? Who are you?”

Since humanity fell into sin, we have slipped out of intimate relationship with our Creator and into a long-distance one. Where we once walked with him openly, now we only call once in a while, when we think of it, when the mood strikes us, when there’s nothing else to do. Is it any wonder we don’t recognize God when he intervenes in our lives? Some of the “catastrophes” I’ve faced have been blessings from God, saving me from myself, and some of the “blessings” I received were the most devious weapons of the Enemy. Crying out to God, “Who are you, Lord?” shows that in our desperate moments we sense he’s at work.

Jesus! (John 20:16)—this prayer is the most precious. Of all the words in all the languages of the world there is none simpler or more powerful than the name of Jesus. When times are most desperate, cry to Jesus. When you’re terrified and lonely, cry to Jesus. When you’re excited and no one is around to share it, cry to Jesus. You will never have a better friend than Jesus. You cannot be saved apart from Jesus. You cannot find peace without Jesus.

Do you want love?

Do you want forgiveness?

Do you want healing?

There is only one name in heaven or on earth that carries hope for the broken, rest for the weary, and grace for the criminal. Like William Wallace at the end of Braveheart crying “Freedom!”, when all you have is one word to utter, let it be “Jesus!”

There are many simple prayers I’ve uttered in my life. What are some of yours? Please leave a comment below to talk about the simple prayers that have made a difference in your life.

I am a husband, a father and a follower of Christ. I have been an entrepreneur, a pastor and a politician. Through many hardships I have learned lessons about faith and life. I am also a contributing writer on faithbeyondfear.com. Follow me on Twitter @twelve2nds. If you want to contact me, write me at chip@chipmattis.com.

21 Comments

  • Edna Davidsen

    Hi Chip!

    You wrote: ” I’m sure there’s grace for me, but I think God deserves better from me.”

    That feeling is one, which I think many Christians have. To me, the concept of sin is a category. It pictures this relationship I have with God, where the essence is that I could always do better, and I’m constantly looking in another direction than God.

    The true Gospel, for me, is that I don’t have to do anything, we talk about unconditional love here. What a great message.

    I have always had a problem if Christianity gets too fluffy, or too spiritual. For me it’s not about giving God anything and all of the ‘Walk-in-the-word-talk’ – I prefer to begin another place, much more materialised and practical. What can I do for my neighbour?

    Sorry, if I went off-topic there, I guess I’m just being creative and product this morning 🙂

    Back on track . . .

    Tell me some more about wrestling, is that something you’ve been interested in for a long time?

    Sincerely
    Edna Davidsen

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks for the comments, Edna. I think what I’m saying is that much like I look for ways I could be a better husband or father, I see my attempts at prayer to be opportunities for improvement. You’re right. I’m not advocating a works-based Gospel. I’m just a realist that I’m still growing as a follower of Christ. Until I’m crucified, I think I’m coming up short of Jesus’s standard 🙂 I’m half kidding.
      As far as wrestling, I’m actually not interested in it at all. I went to a friend’s house to watch some wrestling pay-per-view special, and I didn’t get it. I used to watch it when I was young, but now I’d much rather skip the soap opera, scripted, fake wrestling and watch MMA.

  • Heather Hart

    God does deserve our best, but He knew before time began that He wouldn’t get it, that’s why Jesus came. I know this is a post on prayer, but my favorite part was the line about grace, because you are absolutely right. There is grace for us when we don’t get it right. When we fall short, God forgives. When we don’t have the words, God knows our hearts. I am so thankful for Jesus.

    • Chip Mattis

      I am so thankful for God’s grace too! Since I’m still growing and maturing, I’m so glad I’m not under the law or that God isn’t harsh with me. He’s so kind, and I want to grow closer to him. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Yvonne

    I am enjoying your series on prayer. I have tried to incorporate last weeks ideas on body prayers, thanks. These ideas are more good suggestions when we struggle with the words to say. Can’t wait for the next one.

  • Sydney Meek

    I love this! It’s so encouraging to read prayers in the bible from some of the most inspiring Christians, yet also from ones who claimed disbelief. This year I’ve been working on being more intentional with my prayers. Thanks for sharing!

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks, Sydney! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m in the same boat. I’ve really had to explore different dimensions of prayer this year. It’s been a challenge in many ways, trying to find new ways of relating to God. I just keep moving forward. What else is there to do? Thanks for commenting!

  • Lisa Q

    Hi Chip! Do you ever wonder if we complicate prayer too much? I mean, there are books on prayer that can fill most people’s shelves. Not that this is a bad thing, but I wonder if we should focus on keeping it simple. Life is complicated enough. I think when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, that was His way of giving us a good, simple yet profound guide. I am not sure it was intended to be a liturical prayer, although I see the beauty in praying the Lord’s prayer simulateously with others in the Body of Christ. I also see it as a blueprint, something to help us figure prayer out. So, I often pray along those lines, saying the Lord’s prayer but personalizing it to my current life. Sometimes, I don’t have any words, and so I put on worship music and sing. Worship during my quiet times have been some of the best times with God. I can sense His presence many times by song. Bless you! Lisa Q

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks for sharing, Lisa. I appreciate your comments. And I think you’re right. Prayer doesn’t have to be a science. Yes, it has to be deliberate, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be spontaneous. Yes, it has to have a point, but that doesn’t mean the point isn’t just being near God. My kids share some of the most pointless stuff with me, plot lines to cartoons I don’t follow and random occurrences in their day where they start half-way through the story. I enjoy them, so I listen. I think that’s what God wants from us, to simply spill it and be with him. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • nancyehead

    When you cry to God for help, you’re admitting you need him. — And oh how we do need Him. This writing coincides with our 40 days study on prayer at church. Love how God weaves our life lessons around us. Thanks for great teaching here.

    • Chip Mattis

      That’s great, Nancy! I’m glad I’m consistent on your behalf 🙂
      I just want to say, praying “Jesus!” has been my most frequent prayer. When I face temptation or overwhelming circumstances or when I face doubt or awe, I pray, “Jesus!” It’s simple, and it expresses my heart so thoroughly in those moments. I’m happy it resonated. Thanks for reading!

  • karentfriday

    Hey Chip,

    Love the prayer of just saying, “Jesus.” When our friend, Jane, died at only 28 leaving behind a husband and 3 small children, including a baby boy born only days before, it’s about the only thing I could pray. What power calling out His name.

    The song that mentions, “Just say Jesus” was played at her funeral as one of her favorites. And it simply confirmed how the Lord was speaking to me during those dark days. A time that lines up with your words here:

    “…this prayer is the most precious. Of all the words in all the languages of the world there is none simpler or more powerful than the name of Jesus. When times are most desperate, cry to Jesus. ”

    Thank you!

    • Chip Mattis

      Oh, Karen, that’s rough. What a tragic story losing your friend. There really are no words of comfort for stuff like that. When I’ve faced difficulties, “Jesus!” is about all I can muster. It sounds like you’ve had a similar experience.
      7eventh Time Down is awesome! I love their song “Lean On”. When my wife is facing health issues, I cycle back to this song and the one you mentioned. They lift me up. Thanks for your comments.

  • Melinda Viergever Inman

    Great post and great comments! No, I don’t want your recipe for squirrel with noodles. I’ll pass. But, thanks for offering. I like the point Edna made about grace, though I don’t think she used that word specifically. In essence, you don’t have to do anything. God loves you, even when you’re stone cold silent. So, the pressure’s off.

    Like you, I also strive and yearn for more, for better responses from me, for “better” praying. Here are two things that have comforted me this year, giving me two prayer “strategies” in the process.

    I’ve been studying Isaiah for nearly two years. In it I see God’s faithfulness to his covenant people. They do practically nothing right, NOTHING – how they live, pray, fight, plan, worship, etc. Yet God is eternally faithful to them, no matter what. That truth relieves me greatly, allowing me to give myself grace, which has increased over these two years.

    I’ve also been noticing how and when Jesus prays in the gospels, and I’ve come to love how he simply starts talking to God out loud wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. He’s the only human being who was cognizant that God is already completely present ALL THE TIME, as if he’s right there. Because he is. So I’m modeling that in my life and seeking to make it habitual. I simply talk out loud to God all day, or walk us right into “prayer” if others are present.

    On my husband’s days off that means he’ll yell at me from a few rooms over, “I couldn’t hear you. What did you say?” And I’ll reply, “Not talking to you.” He’ll then ask me who I’m talking to (normal voice, conversational, no dear God or amen), and I’ll respond: “Jesus.”

    This is giving me more words with God, where I’m talking more like I write to him. But I’m also learning from my contemplative friends that sitting in silence is also good, because it allows us to hear him. There is no one right way to do this, thanks be to God!

    • Chip Mattis

      Fantastic thoughts, Melinda! Thanks for sharing; it really resonates with me and the reason I wrote this post. Frankly, “better” praying is bit misleading. I think the point is growth and depth with the Lord. It’s funny to me that when you talk to God your husband checks in. That’s totally happened to Jessie and me.
      It’s funny you mention contemplative prayer. I just read The Sacred Enneagram. I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s basically a really deep personal profile that helps you understand your natural behavioral inclinations and how those affect your relationships with others and with God. Then it prescribes particular contemplative prayer focuses. Based on my profile, Doer, I need to sit in solitude and find contentment in God’s love for me. That is so challenging! So I have a lot of growing to do.
      I really appreciate your thoughts, Melinda. Thanks so much for sharing.

      • Melinda Viergever Inman

        Since we’re all so unique, I don’t think any of us pray alike. Last write I was blogging on seeking intimacy with God, which is the essence of prayer. I’m familiar with the Enneagram. If any of this helps you uncover the best way for you to deepen your transparency and intimacy with the Lord, go for it! There are so many resources out there. Sitting in silence and talking out loud to him throughout the day are painless. I’m sure any of the Enneagram suggestions are painless also. Grace and peace be with you in our Lord Jesus Christ as you seek him.

        • Chip Mattis

          Thanks, Melinda! I appreciate the encouragement. Yes, they are ultimately painless, but they’re difficult. The challenge of solitude and silence literally goes against my nature, to do something. That’s the exercise. I really appreciate you chiming in. Thanks!

  • stephaniemgammon

    I love how you say we’ve slipped from an intimate relationship to a long-distance relationship. That sums it up perfectly. I’ve been using the body prayer from last week. It really is more powerful that it sounds at first. Thanks for suggesting it. And you’re going even deeper this week. I’m taking notes. Exactly what I was looking for. Thanks, Chip.

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