Over coffee one day, a friend, Jennifer Malcolm, said she enjoyed reading about the saints in college. “Which ones?” I asked. Saint Francis of Assisi came to her mind. Then she added, “and that guy who prayed while he was washing dishes in a monastery.” “That would be Brother Lawrence,” I noted. She added, “It was new to me that I could pray while doing other things. My life is so busy I just can’t get the morning time for devotion and prayer that I know I should take.”
In the 17th century, Lawrence was an illiterate brother in a monastery who prayed while he washed dishes. Two monks wrote down his reﬂections in a book known as Practicing the Presence of God. It’s now a classic in spiritual literature.
For many Christians, personal prayer is best done at a certain time set aside for that purpose, usually in the morning. Many read prayers written by others. But the research I did based on 548 responses from traditional Protestants showed that nine out of ten did most or some of their praying while doing other things, such as jogging, driving, waiting for appointments, or doing routine chores.
Call this conversational prayer—talking with God about what is on your mind at that time. Call the alternative formal prayer. Which is better? A case can be made for conversational prayer. Paul challenged the Thessalonians to “be joyful always, pray continually; and give thanks in all circumstances.” This is the kind of life God wants for his people. Who would not want to live joyfully and thankfully this way?
A character in George Barnano’s The Diary of a Country Priest recommends plugging away at formal prayer with this explanation, “If you can’t pray, at least say your prayers! This is not Christian prayer at its best, but true prayer may arise out of it.”
Half of all the respondents in my study reported that in their prayers they regularly experience a deep sense of peace and feel the strong presence of God. Half described their prayers as the most satisfying experience in their lives. I almost overlooked this amazing percentage in all the data. Who would have guessed that half of traditional Christians would describe prayer as the most satisfying experience in their life?
In our day, Bradley Hanson notes that “Prayer is more than reciting speciﬁc prayers—it is communicating with God, the communion with God that enables us to become more nearly our true selves. So prayer is not a technique that can be mastered. Learning to pray involves learning to trust God in all circumstances. It is always the Lord who teaches us to pray. Of course, the Lord uses Scriptures and the lives, words, and experiences of others as pointers and guides, but ultimately the real teacher of prayer is God.”
Only one out of those 548 respondents described prayer as a duty, along with the confession that he was not fulﬁlling it. He was reﬂecting the Lutheran tradition, expressed by a 19th-century theologian who opined in a very Germanic way that “Where there is a willingness to pray it is necessary that the time devoted to that purpose be carefully regulated and the regulations strictly adhered to, or prayer will practically end in omission, as a result of the slothfulness and luke-warmness of our nature.”
Even though a prominent theologian, that man didn’t have a clue about how the Holy Spirit works today. Like Christ standing and knocking at the door in Revelation 3, Christ’s Spirit now frequently knocks on the door of the believer’s heart. When we respond in our thoughts, we are launched into the conversation with God called prayer.
In previous centuries, traditional Protestants lost sight of how the Holy Spirit is active around us today. The story of how that happened is long and best told at another time, but the resulting gap in our heritage leaves us much impoverished today. We simply don’t believe what Jesus and Paul told us about the one whom we now call the Third Person of the Trinity. We have much to learn from those who take the Spirit more seriously today.
Lee Larsen says
As I get older and my memory grows weaker I find myself having to take advantage of those moments when something or someone pops into my head before I forget. I like to think it was the Holy Spirit that created the situation and thought process in my mind to bring whatever it is to the forefront so I can offer up prayers in the moment. All to often when I am in church and it is time to pray only a few things come to mind, but I know there are so many others. I end up thinking to myself, Lord you know who & what they are please search my mind so I do not miss anyone! When someone very close to you is suffering it becomes a sharp focal point of your prayers and others get pushed further back. They aren’t necessarily less important there is just so much that can be recalled in that brief period of time. So why not take advantage of those times of recall whenever and wherever they might be! We need to remember are our prayers of thanks as they also pop into our minds. The beautiful day, admiration of one of God’s amazing creations, the loved ones and friends around us and so on. No matter what sort of day we are having when we truly take the time to realize the amazing gifts and promises that the Lord provides us with this should bring a smile to our face and joy within our heart. This is what we need to be sharing with all those around us. So get your friends together, put a smile on your face and the joy of the Lord in your heart and head on out to light that flame in the hearts of others through simple acts of kindness giving all the glory to Jesus along with an invite to come and begin their journey with the Lord. This is made easy through PACK, a totally free resource at http://www.acts18.org. The more we share the more we are blessed. His well never runs dry! God bless!
David Luecke says
As Paul said Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. God does not keep a list and be disappointed if you leave something off. Bless your conversations with him.
Corbie Cross says
I read this post with interest. Years ago I came home from work late in the evening and my father had stopped by to visit and he was sitting with our son on the couch downstairs. Before I said anything I listened and I heard them as Dad said OK now lets go through the Alphabet what can you think of begining with A that you can thank God for? I don’t remember how long they sat there but it is a mental picture I will never forget. Grandfather and grandson praying together. Lloyd John Olgivie “Conversation with God” that had made an impact on him. My son has his own copy that he references from time to time! I know it isn’t standard Lutheran fare but it is a great book on praying. I think it is out of print by now as it was copyrighted in 1993.
Just couldn’t resist commenting on this post as I think as Lutherans we are so worried about using the wrong language or wrong style we forget God is listening and He can understand our regular language and He does know our heart!
Thanks again for all your efforts to wake us up!
David Luecke says
Thanks, Corbie. Lloyd Ogilvie was an outstanding Presbyterian preacher. You can’t go wrong with him. Yes, conversational prayer is something we Lutherans were never taught. Prayer was something you had to do, not something you get to do. Preferably pray prayers out of a prayer book. I trust your conversational prayer goes well.