I think anyone who sits down to write a public post on prayer must feel some level of anxiety. I've known few men who would claim to have the prayer life they'd like to have (I'm not there yet), and I've known even fewer men who were really open about their prayer lives at all. When you write or speak about prayer it seems that people find it easy to think you're being high-and-mighty or trying to sound uber-spiritual. I am most certainly not trying to do either of those things! But, it is important to talk about prayer and to emphasize it in our families and churches and so a post on it here seems appropriate.
Prayer has been on my mind a lot lately. I'd like to pray more, I'd like my first response to almost any situation to be prayer, and I'd like to pray more wisely. It's this last desire, to pray more wisely, that I think is worth sharing.
In the past two years I have become a pastor and a father. Both of these responsibilities require prayer for true success. I lead my family in prayer each night, and my church in prayer each Lord's Day. I pray for the meal, I pray for my wife, I pray for my kids, I pray for the sick, I pray during times of rejoicing, and I pray at funerals. There are times when my heart leaps for joy during my prayers and times when I can barely choke out the next word through my grief. And yet, even with all these different experiences in prayer I often feel as though I'm not sure what to say. Each week I stand before the people of God and I am to offer a pastoral prayer and I need to know what to say. Each night I sit with my family and we bow our heads to pray and I need to know what to say. It's easy to blather on and on, it's easier to try to pray so that people think what you said was really neat or particularly moving, but what I really want (and what those I pray for really need) is to pray more wisely.
What I've found is that (surprise!) when I follow Jesus' example it's much better. By keeping to the general outline of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) I find that my prayer is focused on the Lord, fruitful for myself and others, and wise. I don't find myself praying for the things of this world, I don't pray that God will help me to build my kingdom, I don't forget to confess sin and ask that he'll forgive it (while remembering the necessity of forgiving others as well!), and I don't forget to confess that he alone is the source of my provision and protection. There are other prayers to emulate such as the Psalms or Jesus' prayer in John 17, etc, but for my day-to-day prayer life I find that this prayer is exceptionally helpful.
I know the difficulty of bowing your head to pray and not being sure what to say, I know the difficulty of being absent-minded during prayer, and I know the feeling when you know you're rambling and you're not sure how to stop or what to say next. My solution has been to pray as Jesus taught us to pray. It's not original or clever, but it is wise.