Pray Then Like This

Cameron Hughes is the RUF Intern at UC Berkeley

I have never been described as a “prayer warrior.” I was taught as a kid that prayer is just talking to God, anywhere, anytime, about anything. My earliest memory of praying is of me hiding behind the couch with a fist full of Sweet Tarts, asking God to please let me not get caught swiping the candy from the kitchen. A funny anecdote, sure, but at what point does one graduate from using God as a cosmic get-out-of-jail-free card? How does prayer go from something we feel we must do to maintain favor with God to something we want to do to enjoy the fullness of relationship with Him?

I find prayer hard, and sometimes more than a little embarrassing. It’s vulnerable to voice my wants and needs, and I never feel like I’ve mustered enough emotion or spiritual feelings to make it “count.” I’m not alone in this; when I ask for a volunteer to pray at the end of Bible studies with students, there’s always a few beats of silence as everyone averts their eyes, suddenly fascinated by the carpet. I’ve learned that often what I think my students need is actually something I need, too. One such thing is the gift of praying scripture. 

While theology and doctrine primarily engage our minds, forming us from the top down, prayer has a way of forming us from the bottom up. It engages our heart and body, the seat of emotions. Because scripture does not shy away from the full range of human emotion, we can be honest before God when we use the Bible to pray. But the Word of God is living and active, and won’t leave us as we are. Praying scripture shapes our honesty, teaching us to find the fulfillment of our desires in the One who gave them to us. 

Have you ever known you ought to pray, or ought to read scripture, or ought to turn to God somehow, but can’t quite muster the belief that feels necessary to do so? Pray the words of the father who asked Jesus to heal his son: “I believe; help my unbelief.” Have you felt the tension of knowing the thing you want is in fact the last thing you need? Pray Paul’s exhausted and aggravated words in Romans 7 as your own: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Hear the promise from the next chapter and make that your own, too: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Or maybe you’re in the miry pit of grief, feeling abandoned by the God who promises to never leave. Pray the heartbroken question of the psalmist in Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Take comfort that Jesus prayed these words, too. You can pray the refrain of Psalm 42—“Hope in God, for I shall again praise him”—even if you don’t believe it yet. 

Praying scripture forces us to remember that our faith is not in our ability (or lack thereof) to feel the right things at the right time, but in Jesus. I believe Jesus delights in even our weak, faithless, embarrassing prayers. But if you feel too far away from God to talk to Him with your own words, if you are afraid of saying the wrong thing, if you haven’t prayed in years, or even if you can’t stay awake long enough to come up with something, you can borrow the words of another. Jesus doesn’t just allow us to do this, but he tells us to: 

“Pray then like this:

‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

    on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

    but deliver us from evil.’”

There’s grace for those of us who aren’t exactly prayer warriors. God gives us the gift of his word, his Son, and his Spirit to help us and guide us as we learn to pray. Jesus will use prayer and scripture to sow and tend our mustard seed-sized faith into something beautiful for our good and his glory.