Perhaps the simplest form of worship is prayer. Every expression of worship that I can think of has an element of prayer to it because every expression of worship carries a message. We sing (action) songs of praise (message). We tithe (action) to show trust and gratitude (message). Prayer can also be both action and message. It doesn’t require memorizing lines, or a formal space, but it can include those things if we want. Prayer can be as simple as a quick, “Thank You, God!” or “Help me, Lord!” Or it can be a dedicated time of speaking and listening to the Creator, petitioning Him with the desires or the praises of our hearts.
So prayer is simple. But it’s not easy for many of us (myself included). Why is that? I think partly, we have formalized prayer into an activity that only takes place on Sunday morning and before meals. It’s usually led by someone else, and maybe it’s something we just listen to. If you feel that way about prayer, you’re not alone. And I’d venture that over centuries, church has taught us to pray like this: bow your head, close your eyes, and listen to the person praying. Many of us have slid into this view of prayer gradually.
When I look at how Jesus prayed, and how He taught us to pray, I see something entirely different. Jesus says pray when no one is looking. He lays out a simple prayer in Matthew 6 that praises God and asks Him for help. And when Jesus prays (John 17, e.g.), it is with an intimacy that is available to us thanks to Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
That’s how I want to pray. A lot of times I feel like I don’t know how, and I feel awkward doing it. But I’m taking steps to make it feel less awkward, because I think it’s important. Too many times, I’ve felt a tug to ask someone, “Can I pray for you?” but I’ve ignored that tug because I feel too embarrassed to pray in front of them. So here are some steps I’m trying out, that you might want to try, too:
Praying out loud. I like praying silently, but my mind tends to wander, or I get tired if I’m praying before bed.
Praying passages from the Psalms. The Psalms express a lot of emotions: joy, pain, fear, anxiety, peace, contentedness, hope. Sometimes I’ll come across a passage and I’ll just read it out loud, because the Psalmist gives words to something I’m feeling. So I’ll say it out loud.
Try a prayer book. You don’t have to memorize prayers. Actually I’d advise you to memorize scripture, like the Psalms, first. But prayer books give us another lexicon of prayer language, which can be helpful if you feel like you don’t know what to say.
Say “Amen.” When someone else is praying, listen, but then actively say, “I agree, and I pray this, too,” by saying “Amen” aloud.