“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV
I’ve heard it said many times before: “Prayer is a mystery.” I did a quick Google search over the weekend and it turned up hundreds of articles talking about “the mystery of prayer.” (In all fairness, a quick Google search on anything turns up hundreds of results, but I digress.) Even amongst so much evidence, I think I take issue with the statement.
Over time I have personally come to believe that prayer is the least complicated and most understandable thing in the world. By making ourselves vulnerable in front of God, by opening ourselves up to him, he in return honors that act by filling us with his Holy Spirit, which strengthens us to live our lives. The act itself, and the way that we pray, is by no means easy for a lot of people, which I fully understand. It wasn’t easy for me for a huge part of my own life. But it is one of the more transparent things we can do in our relationship with God.
Why and How prayer works? Now that IS a mystery. But maybe one for another post.
I promise you that this is not a tutorial on how to pray. I don’t believe there is any right or wrong way to pray. But my hope is that by sharing a little bit of my experience I can strip away some of the self-consciousness or hesitancy around the act and make folks a bit more comfortable opening up their own dialogue with God. After all, it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. Prayer takes us away from our surroundings and ourselves and allows us to be more in touch with God, which allows him to affect our lives in whatever way he sees fit.
And yes, it can be hard. Ten years ago I couldn’t pray worth a lick. I was too self-involved. I was too caught up in being perfect for God. I was too worried about saying the wrong thing. The fact that He knew what I was going to say already? That He knew what was on my heart, He was just waiting for me to share it? Yeah, I hadn’t quite come to that realization yet. But what I have come to believe is that perfection is not what He wants from us. God actually wants the opposite. He wants for us to come before him in our brokenness and present ourselves to him warts and all. He already knows what’s there, but he also knows that there is a power that comes to us simply by taking that first step of revealing ourselves to him. Being willing to lay ourselves bare in front of him. There is transformation through revelation. A prayer isn’t a PowerPoint presentation or a speech to congress that needs to be pored over, since every word or graph will be picked at by hoards of people and judged by all. It’s the simple act of conversation. One side talks, the other listens. Then we switch.
Recently my wife told me that for Lent, she wanted to learn how to pray better. She’s not alone; I’ve been there myself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started to pray, either out loud or to myself, and then gotten caught up in self-doubt. Am I saying the right things? Am I asking for too much? Are my words flowery enough? Or pious enough? The truth is that piety, gratitude, and righteousness are the last things that He cares about. I mean, He already knows what we want and who we are before we even kneel before him. Prayer isn’t about Him knowing us; it’s about us knowing him. And, through knowing Him better, we can know ourselves better.
There are a couple of things I have learned about prayer that have been helpful to me. First, I believe prayer improves in silence. There are many stories in the Bible of Jesus going off into the woods or up a mountain to pray by himself. Solitude and quietness can be enormously helpful to our prayer life.
I also believe that prayer improves with kneeling because it takes us out of our own minds and out of our surroundings and lowers us, both physically and figuratively, and allows us to give ourselves over to God more completely. At night when I kneel down to pray it feels like a release. It feels almost like the collapse at the end of a big race from total exhaustion. I hope that at the end of each day I can kneel before Him knowing I have done everything I could to run my best race that day.
At church kneeling feels more like penitence. It’s an uncomfortable act, all squished up in the wooden pews, people all around. But it feels good to kneel at church. The discomfort makes me feel closer to God. Kneeling strips away the trappings of life, making us all equal in the eyes of God. Coat and tie or jeans and a tee shirt, when we are all kneeling together we are all on the same level.
Think about all the times when people kneel before others: a warrior kneeling before a queen to be knighted, a boyfriend kneeling before his girlfriend to propose marriage, Brandy Chastain sliding across a soccer field on her knees after a winning goal. All of these acts evoke core emotions: submitting to a higher power; giving ourselves over to another person; allowing the pure joy of a moment to flow out of us.
I mean is there any more joyous feeling in the world then when your quarterback takes a knee at the end of a football game?
There is no doubt in my mind that kneeling has improved my prayer life. And it is not a coincidence that as my prayer life has improved, so has my spiritual life. Worship is more meaningful, I am more able to be vulnerable to those around me, I am more able to articulate to other people how important they are in my life, I am more willing to take risks and push the boundaries of what I am comfortable doing. Each risk I have taken has been rewarded by God multiple times over. Not necessarily with riches or applause, but with a more nourished soul.