Lately I've been thinking about spiritual growth; the two main things that come to my mind are Bible study and prayer. Reading and studying the Bible is (for me), easy. I love reading and learning new things and somehow even if I've read a passage of scripture twenty times, I've found that I still can learn something new about God each time I re-read it. Prayer, on the other hand, has always seemed a bit mysterious to me.
Growing up in church I learned that prayer was "talking to God." For a long time I tried to figure out why we mainly "talk to God" only at mealtimes or before bed and why it seemed some people had a lot to say to God and some people could get by with "God is great, God is good..." Either way, my understanding of prayer was that it was just to thank God for things that he had given me.
When I got a little older I learned that in addition to thanking God, prayer was also a way to ask God for things. In my mind it was kind of like going to a benevolent grandfather. He didn't like people who were too selfish but as long as you prayed for other people (mainly sick people), you were allowed to throw in a request or two for yourself (maybe a good grade on a test you hadn't studied for or something like that). I couldn't understand why prayer was such a big deal, why people always referred to prayer as powerful. It seemed like prayer was kind of hit or miss. Maybe the thing I was praying for happened; maybe it didn't. There didn't seem to be any real correlation.
Then something happened in my prayer life. I was living overseas and really struggling at times with loneliness and culture shock, sometimes fear, and I started talking to God for real. It wasn't anything like I thought prayer was supposed to be. There was no starting with "Dear God" and no ending with "Amen." My prayer was a constant stream of conversation. My prayers were partly expressions of thankfulness and prayers for others to be healed or know Jesus, but the bulk of that conversation was me begging God to show himself to me through his word and through the world around me and praising his name every time he did. I finally understood what it meant when people said they had poured their hearts out to God. During that time prayer was my state of being. It sustained me. It was my lifeline. I realized that prayer was actually powerful. Not in the way I had thought, as a method for getting God to do something I wanted him to do. Instead, it had the power to help me become closer to the God of the universe; it wasn't selfish to pray for myself if my prayer was that I would know him more. In fact, it was essential that I pray for myself.
There is so much more I could say. I could tell you the many things God has taught me through prayer and about how prayer is one of the most treasured things in all my life's experiences, but all of that would take more than one blog post. When I started writing this post I didn't really know where it was heading, but now my hope is that whoever reads this will be encouraged.
Prayer takes discipline, it doesn't come naturally to most of us, it's ok if you don't really understand it or know how to go about it. Pray for yourself. Ask God to teach you how to pray and know this: He will.