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The way you pray is OK

Posted: Sunday, June 07, 2009

Gee, we make a big fuss about prayer, don't we? When I became a pastor, everyone suddenly deferred to me when it was time to pray. I guess they figured now I was some kind of expert. Honestly, I'm not very good at prayer.

In all my years in church, and especially in seminary, I kept hoping I'd finally figure out how to pray. Maybe if I kneel, or hold my hands this way instead of that, or maybe if I sing my prayers.

After all, St. Augustine wrote, "Whenever I sing, I pray twice."

I went to workshops, seminars and read books, and yet I never could settle into something where I could say, "This is my prayer life."

But I do like to pray. I love calling out to God, on the spur of a moment, in joy, in delight, in need. I love sitting with people and, after listening to the joys and concerns of their lives, bringing whatever is facing them into the presence of God. I love listening to other people pray, happy to let their words speak for my heart. I love the tender, fragile hope that lives within so much of our prayer. Prayer is so good. Why is it so hard?

That's why I thought it was pretty interesting when I heard on the radio last week that some poll found that 81 percent of Americans claim they pray at least a few times a month. Maybe prayer isn't so hard, after all.

I'm guessing these aren't fancy, formal prayers. We are most often compelled to call out, in hope and desperation, when we don't know what else to do.

"Please, please help ... she's sick, he's dying, our house, my job, the baby, he's drinking, I can't take it anymore, it hurts, please, please help," we pray.

These prayers are real. They don't need to be fancied up or validated by some official religious representative.

Martin Luther wrote: "The fewer the words, the better the prayer."

He also wrote some really long prayers. But he understood that our conversations with God don't have to be said just so, or filled with flowery, churchy vocabulary.

I believe a few heartfelt words are enough: "Help ... I'm sorry ... thank you ... take care of them."

Let us pray.

• The Rev. Sue Bahleda is pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church.



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