A Journey in Learning to Pray

by Vern Francis

Bethel Christian Writers

Jim was a new Christian and everything about his life with Christ was fresh and exciting. This included the many activities at the church. After all, it was the church that introduced him to this new life. Prayer meeting was on Wednesday night, and as a beginning Christian, that sounded like something he would like to do. He showed up.

Several souls gathered and after minimal preliminaries, pray-er number one started in. This guy knew how to pray. He used all the King James phrases with Thees and Thous, and even had a few lines that sounded like quoting scripture. He went on for quite a while, and Jim was impressed. I will learn to pray . . . someday. 

Then number two started in. This pray-er happened to sit (or maybe it was kneeling) next to number one, and he (or maybe it was she) proceeded as if it was their turn. Number two was just as fluent with the King James phrases and Bible quotes, and on a grading scale, the first two pray-ers were tied. 

Now it was number three’s turn, and yes, number three was situated next to number two, who in turn was next to number one. It was obvious that the number three hitter had earned his position via strong prayer prowess, and even a Seattle Mariners fan knows that number four bats cleanup. 

By now, Jim was doing some calculations. The cleanup pray-er is sitting next to number three, so number four is next, but even more disconcerting is the position in the lineup where Jim found himself. It didn’t look like anyone was going to make an out, and the inning would be far from over when it was his turn to bat. Jim realized that he was somehow inserted into the lineup of a major league team, where he himself would have had trouble looking respectable on the town’s C team. What to do?

Desperate situations call for quick decisive action and possibly desperate responses. Jim counted the chairs. It was easy to figure. His turn was coming up. He needed to be ready. This group was focused, which was good. Everyone seemed to have heads bowed and eyes closed. This was also good. As the cleanup hitter began, Jim quietly got up, tiptoed to the door, and was gone. 


Jim, I hope my rendition does not detract from your non-fiction story. How to pray has been on my mind, and I am hoping that in the process of studying and writing about prayer, I will get some great insights. One of my greatest dreads is to pray aloud in front of someone. 

The disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” The famous Lord’s Prayer is a prayer and a template. It is mostly a statement of praise, forgiveness, and the strength to resist evil. Unless you count the “give us our daily bread” part, there is no reference to a current hardship at hand. A couple long prayers in the Old Testament lend some insight. The prayer in Nehemiah 9 and Solomon’s prayer in II Chronicles 6 have different settings and purposes, yet are so similar. Both prayers begin with praise to God and end with seeking forgiveness of sins. Sandwiched in the middle is a history lesson of God’s work and some general references to the issues at hand. Although these prayers predate Jesus by hundreds of years, it is uncanny how closely they follow the template of the Lord’s Prayer. 

Jesus’s prayer in John 17 gives insight to His relationship with the Father. Many of the Psalms poetically articulate praise, but most striking of all is the relationship demonstrated between the Psalter and God. There are prayers in the Bible that can’t be categorized as poetic examples. Elijah is recorded in I Kings 17 and 18 with quick-to-the-point prayers. “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” That’s it. The boy comes back to life. “Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God.” This succinct prayer brought fire from heaven which consumed the altar and its contents. Elijah’s longest prayers are when he complains to God about how hard things are. It illustrates his relationship with God. How about the prayer by the blind beggar when he learns that Jesus is walking by? “Son of David, have mercy of me!” Not much of a prayer, but it got Jesus’s attention. Is there a stronger endorsement?

Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof, and his rambling on to God about how hard life is resonates with me. Tevye and I have a lot in common. Tevye’s relationship with God comes through, and his words are not that much different from Biblical examples such as Abraham and Moses. Except of course, Abraham and Moses had conversations; Tevye and I have mostly monologues. 

Mother Teresa, when asked what does she say when she prays, replied, “Not much, I mostly listen.” 

“And what does God say?”

“Not much, He mostly listens,” she answered.  I wonder if Mother Teresa was good at public prayer? 


Although I still have no clue what words to say when I pray, I have learned a couple things about prayer as I continue this journey. I am overwhelmed by Biblical examples of the God/man relationship. The prayers are to someone that understands, is personally interested, and is capable of making a difference. The pray-er does not bring much to the table. There is no sense of negotiation or compromise, and yet there is a sense of eagerness on both sides to make a deal. Prayer is not based on a certain set of words. God has given us prayer examples, not for how to, but as demonstrations of relationships. Though we find ourselves in the mother of all unequal negotiation circumstances, these prayer examples demonstrate a confidence that God is listening. He is a father and a friend who loves us like no other.

The relationship determines the words. We may approach God with a list of issues for which we would like a little help, but God does not need a passionate presentation of the matters at hand. He knows. No wonder the prayer examples are proclamations of praise and cries for forgiveness. With the relationship in mind, praise and forgiveness are the matters at hand. 

When I started this journey, I was hoping for a script that would allow me to keep up with those guys that intimidated Jim. But this journey is not going in that direction. My prayer today is to develop and practice an intimate relationship with my God. When I first considered the prayers of Elijah and the blind beggar, I figured that maybe I needed to just cut to the chase. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” But it is the relationship and not the request that comes through. Most of us have a relationship that falls somewhere in the vast spectrum between Elijah and the blind beggar. Just maybe, there is a place of relationship for you and me.