We like formulas. They make life understandable. “A + B + C = D” helps simplify our world. It is orderly and predictable. It is sad however, when we turn prayer into a formulaic exercise. We all do it from time to time, often with good intentions. We have a problem (A) and we add prayer (B) and we appeal for the power of God (C), and then we expect a specific result (D).
We all want prayer to be far more than that. We know prayer is about relationship and conversation. However, I find myself at times defaulting to the formula. You may as well.
As we grow in our prayer lives, is there a way to leave the formulas behind?
Recently I heard someone quote “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”. They quoted it as a formula that applied to Canada, today. I will be the first to say we need humble prayers of confession. However, I believe it is a mistake to feel God is obligated to heal Canada if we pray those prayers.
He may, and that would be great, but He may not. This passage is a promise to the Hebrew people, not a current day formula to follow. Yet we sub in the pieces: our country’s current state (A) + humble confession (B) + God’s power (C) = healed Canada (D). This is not an isolated example.
How can we move past these kinds of formulaic prayer?
Let us limit our thoughts to just two basic reminders:
First, we should recognize that not all formulas are bad. This sounds contradictory. However, let me give you two examples: The Lord’s Prayer and the ACTS acrostic (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Both could be considered formulas and if there is no intention in them can turn into ruts; yet they can move us well beyond the A+B+C=D formula.
When we take time to consider what Jesus modelled for us and pray in a similar way, or when we broaden prayer beyond a mere “shopping list” to include declarations of God’s greatness and our thanks, as well as acts of confession, it can expand our prayer life. The key might be our intentionality to broaden prayer.
Second, we could spend more time in conversational prayer. Prayer at its core is a conversation. I know that I really take this for granted at times. I have the opportunity, at any time, on any day, to chat with God almighty. Instead, I often don’t converse because I focus on “my list”. Conversation is a two-way street. Prayer is no different. We share and we listen.
I suspect for us, listening is far harder, yet it could be very beneficial. An interviewer asked Mother Teresa what she said to God in prayer. She responded, “I mostly listen.” That led the interviewer to ask, “When you listen, what does God say?” She answered, “He mostly listens too”.
Could listening move us past the formula?
Do I feel so at home in God’s presence that I am comfortable when both God and I are listening?
How about you?