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Learning to Pray

Some things in life have become so natural that we forget that we had to learn them, once.  Consider a talented athlete, musician, author, or speaker that you look up to.  He or she probably didn’t start out as an expert.  Even where God gave that person a talent or gift, there are often many practice sessions, long workouts, mistakes, losses, and failures in each case, before he or she reached the current level of skill.

How about you?  What can you now do without thinking about it, even though you didn’t always know how?  For instance:

  • Reading a book
  • Touch typing (or texting)
  • Riding a bike
  • Playing a sport
  • Tying your shoes
  • Being able to pull out your smartphone and get Facebook open before you get the phone up to where you can see it

After we learn to master skills like these, they become second nature.  However, if prayer isn’t yet as natural as some of these other skills, don’t give up – thinking that you can’t do it.  Instead, think back to how you learned to do other things.  Some practice was probably required, as well as some good instruction and the motivation to keep working at it.

So, how do we learn to pray?  The good news is that we’re not on our own.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Examples – When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, he gave them an outline (see Matthew 6:9-13).  Not only are these great words to pray verbatim (and some congregations recite them together, periodically), but they are also a solid outline for us to branch out from, as we pray for the same kinds of things – glorifying God, seeking His will, asking about our own needs, requesting forgiveness, and seeking strength for our Christian walk – in our own words and about our own circumstances.
  • Coaching – Find a trusted Christian friend and just invite them to pray with you.  Tell your friend about what is on your heart, and ask them if they will pray (out loud) with you about those things.  You don’t have to pray exactly like someone else, but sometimes just seeing how the conversation of prayer naturally flows out of a mature Christian’s heart can be encouraging and helpful.
  • Practice – Here’s a little secret: There’s no “recipe” or “secret language” to prayer.  If you can talk to another human being, you can talk to God.  In fact, even if you are terrified to talk to other human beings (maybe you only talk to yourself, trying to get up the courage to speak with others), you can still talk to God.  God hears everything you say and think (regardless of whether you think that you are praying), so just speak or think the words you want to say to God.

With this in mind, read I Corinthians 9:24-27 today, and consider how you can make prayer as natural as something you do every day.  With practice, it can become as much as a habit as using a turn signal when changing lanes…or maybe more so!

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:24‭-‬27 NASB



For more reading on this topic, see also:

A version of this devotion originally appeared at fcccanton.com, as a Study Guide for the August 17, 2014 message on the subject of Prayer.  Used by permission.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.

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