Best of Daily Reflections: You Have a Hard Time Praying, Don’t You?Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.
About twenty-five years ago, I had lunch with Henri Nouwen. If you’re not familiar with this name, he was a spiritual writer who influenced millions upon millions of Christians to grow in our relationship with God. He was truly one of my heroes of the faith. The occasion of our lunch was a wedding in Toronto, Canada, in which I was a groomsmen. One of the other groomsman knew that Nouwen lived not far from Toronto, so he arranged to have lunch with Nouwen and invited me to join them. I felt a little like a lifelong baseball fan who got to have lunch with Sandy Koufax or Babe Ruth.
As we sat in a little pizza joint north of Toronto, we asked Henri all sorts of questions. One of my inquiries prompted him to respond with a question of his own: “You have a hard time praying, don’t you?” Now, this question would usually have elicited a rush of defensiveness from me, but Henri asked it with such compassion and graciousness that I found it easy to say, “Yes, I do.” I did struggle with prayer back then, and in many ways I still do. I expect that most of those who read these Daily Reflections would agree, maybe even you.
Over the years, I have been helped in my effort to pray by many wise brothers and sisters in Christ, including Henri Nouwen, through his wise and open-hearted writings. But, perhaps more than anything else, I have learned how to pray by reading and praying the Psalms.
I’m not alone here. Throughout the centuries, millions of people have discovered deeper intimacy and truthfulness in prayer by using the Psalms. The sixteenth-century theologian John Calvin observed, “a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise [of calling upon God] cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms.” Calvin continued, “whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book” (Calvin, Psalms, 1:xxxvii).
Ephesians 5:19 urges us to use “psalms” as we speak to each other. This exhortation points to the value of the biblical book of Psalms for our corporate life, not to mention our prayer to and worship of God. The Lord has given us the Psalms to teach us to pray openly, freely, confidently, and faithfully.
Several years ago, I shared some of what the Psalms taught me about prayer in a book, No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. My belief that the Psalter is God’s textbook on prayer is a main reason that my Daily Reflection each Friday is usually based on a psalm. Though our devotion to God should be shaped by all of Scripture, God will teach us how to pray through regular reading, reflection, and praying of the Psalms.
I would confess that I still have a hard time praying, at least some of the time. But, by God’s grace, I am learning how to pray with greater faithfulness and truthfulness. The Psalms have featured prominently in my divine education. Perhaps they will help you too.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:
Do you have a hard time praying? If so, why? If not, why not? What has helped you learn how to pray? To what extent have the Psalms been central to your education in prayer? What have you learned from the Psalms?
Gracious God, you know it’s true. I do have a hard time praying, at least some of the time. Sometimes it’s difficult to talk to someone I can’t see. Sometimes doubt makes we wonder if you’re even there to hear me. Sometimes the needs of the world are so overwhelming that it’s hard to imagine my prayer will make any difference at all. Sometimes I’m just too discouraged to pray. Sometimes I remember how you did not answer my prayers as I had hoped. And so it goes.
Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for teaching me how to pray. Thank you for those who have been my mentors and partners in prayer. Today, I thank you most of all for the Psalms. Through this amazing collection of prayers, you have taught me and teach me still. May I continue to learn from you through the Psalms how to open my heart to you. May I be encouraged to pray faithfully and truthfully, holding nothing back from you.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Amen.