One helpful approach is to take as little as five minutes in your day to pray. Each minute is spent on one of the words your parents were always trying to get you to say:
When we meet with people we know we would rarely pounce upon them with a list of apologies or requests. Usually, we would take the time to say hello, look at the person, shake hands, offer a drink of something or some food and ask how they are.
Similarly in prayer we might look for ways to say hello to God. This could simply involve being quiet for a short moment, reading something from the Book of Psalms or focusing your attention on your breathing.
Prayers written by others, like Pray Now, can be of great help. Other ways are lighting a candle to welcome Christ the Light, settling into a favourite chair or making a hot drink symbolising a desire to rest with God.
It may be worth remembering that we never have to come into God’s presence because we are always with God. Times of prayer are simply more intentional moments to make ourselves aware of the ever-present love of God, to remember that 'in Him we live and move and have our being' (acts ch 17 v 28).
Each of these hellos remind us that we have started a conversation with someone important to us and will help us to resist the things that might pull our attention away from spending this time with God.
Saying sorry in prayer may be best thought of not as a grovelling word, but as a healing word. When in our daily lives with others we admit where we have got things wrong and say sorry, relationships can heal and grow. This is also true of our relationship with God. Rather than berating ourselves for our daily misdemeanours, God invites us to draw close and be open about who we truly are.
What am I sorry about? What I am ashamed of? Martin Luther King said "The first rule of prayer is: do not lie to God" and this is what we aim for; a growing sense of God's love that helps us to share all that we are with God.
The first rule of prayer is do not lie to God.Martin Luther King
George McLeod said "We should never rise from our prayers still wondering if God has forgiven us." Yet this is often difficult. In such moments, arranging to speak with a trustworthy person who understands something of our journey into prayer can be invaluable in helping us deepen our sense of forgiveness and a healed relationship with God.
Much prayer is in response to something God has done first. This is especially true in our prayers of thanks. While there may be much we are aware of and grateful for, a quiet pause before we begin can help us avoid long repetitive lists of thanks.
Take a moment to look over today or the day before and try to remember moments where something good took place.
Though I may have missed them at the time, where can I now see qualities like (from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) patience, kindness, honesty, joy, protection, trust, hope, perseverance? Were these ways in which God was showing love to me?
Similarly, we can look at the bigger picture of our whole life, noticing things we may have taken for granted: life-changing opportunities, people who have nurtured us, something that helped us overcome a difficulty or struggle. What has been good for me in my life and how do I now wish to show that I am grateful?
After offering our thanks to God, we may also feel moved to thank others when we see them next. This helps us join our prayers with our living, completing the cycle and begins to tune us in to the moments of God’s goodness throughout the day.
The Bible is full of instances of people asking God to bless and protect themselves or others. Many of these requests can seem selfish and self-serving, overly bold or even petty. They might seem to lack the kind of ‘spirituality’ which we expect to see in these faith-filled characters. Perhaps though, their quality lies in their honesty. Their requests, unpretentious and very human hint to us that prayer is primarily a relationship to explore, not a technique to be perfected.
When it comes to asking God for something, we do not need to pretend to be saints. Author C.S. Lewis said ‘Pray what is in you, not what ought to be in you’. This is where we begin and where we might often return to, honestly telling God what we need and asking for it. This relationship does not demand that we are good, but that we are honest, open to the possibility of growing and changing.
A short pause before we begin can be helpful here too. Notice what concerns come to mind and simply talk to God about them. What is worrying me? What has been at the back of my mind? Do I know of someone with a need for comfort or encouragement? This can help us connect with the requests that come from within. In this way we are baring our hearts with honesty to a loving and living God.
With one another we usually have a pattern for saying farewell. People might hug, shake hands, nod and smile and perhaps make arrangements to meet again.
Times of prayer can benefit from similar actions and words. While we know that we do not leave God’s presence, bringing clear closure to the time that has been set apart helps us avoid prayers that fizzle out or drift into distraction.
It can be helpful to move towards the end of your prayers with a time of quiet, moving from talking to God to listening to God. If a particular thought comes to mind, you might spend this time talking about it, or simply holding it before God.