There’s a notion that you must speak properly to God in prayer. It says you must be on your best behavior, that you must be in the right mindset.
I’ve heard several references to Christian writers who advocate this. They say to sit in silence, meditate on God’s word and His holiness, or something of the like. This practice can be encapsulated by a quote from Kenneth Bailey in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: “Twice in the recent past it was my extraordinary privilege to personally greet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II…How much more should we sense the awesome nature of our approach to ‘Our Father who is in the heavens’ and be appropriately prepared to address him.”
I think there’s a place for this kind of practice in the Christian life. It’s not bad to meditate on God’s word or holiness or how grateful you are to Him. However, I think any attempt to claim this should be our routine every time we pray is mistaken.
As expressed in the earlier quote, many people view God as king and therefore think He should always be addressed as such. God is the King, but I think this earthly analogy breaks down when considering prayer. You’d never address a king with anything less than the best decorum. However, God seems to encourage spontaneous and even frustrated prayer. In a sense, God doesn’t demand that we always address Him with the utmost respect. He’s a king who’s more interested in a genuine, deep relationship. He wants you to express yourself to Him, all the way down from the depths of your soul.
Let’s look at some examples from David and Jesus:
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2).
“But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.
You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.
You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.
I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.
All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.
If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:9-24).
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
This is the kind of communication He wants. He’s not interested in a “respectful” façade (Jesus says in Matthew 6:7 to refrain from empty words in prayer). He knows you at your best and your worst anyway. Why would He care about a proper appearance when you approach Him? He wants you, more than anything, to draw closer to Him. Spewing all your “junk” at Him, so to speak, does that better than approaching him with “proper etiquette.”
I’ve heard so many people say they feel they can’t pray. How can I with all I’ve done? How do I talk to Him? I feel too much shame, guilt, fear, hurt, anger (and yes, this could be anger at God), apathy, distrust, confusion, distance. I can’t bring myself to pray. To these people, it wouldn’t be helpful to say, “You need to get in the right mindset before praying.” No, to these people I say this: Just come to Him. Just start speaking, even if it’s frustration.
I once heard a therapist say, “If you don’t think you can pray, just go home, open up a window, and scream (a certain curse word I won’t repeat here). That can be considered praying.” While I don’t necessarily endorse the expletive, I agree with his point: Let everything out, don’t hold back. Start spewing. If you spew consistently, you may be surprised how deep your prayer life is a year from now.
Again, meditation and quoting God’s word before praying isn’t bad. But for those of us who are addicted, feel numb to God, feel hurt by God, feel mad at God, feel they can’t see Him, are scared to approach Him, or fill in the blank, just coming to Him may be the best way to pray.
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
“whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).