The Most Important Tip You’ll Ever Know for Learning to Pray

A few months ago, I bought a CD set at a garage sale. The CDs promised to teach me Spanish in thirty days. Although I have lived on the U.S.-Mexican border all my adult life and took all kinds of language courses in high school and college, I still can’t speak or understand much Spanish. So, I dove in: For thirty days I played those CDs whenever I was in my car–patiently repeating words and phrases over and over, confident this was going to be the breakthrough for me.

It wasn’t, but that’s another story. What matters here is why I wanted to learn Spanish, which was to be able to communicate at a heart level with a Latino friend who speaks very little English. A common language is basically a means to an end, a vehicle we must have to get anywhere in a relationship. Without it, we’re limited to surface starts and stops and frustrating failures.

As followers of Jesus, our greatest privilege is to know him and be known by him. To that end, we need a common language, one that enables us to commune intimately and authentically. Prayer is the language of the soul—a means to the end for which we were created. In other words, the goal of prayer is not to learn to pray, but to commune with Jesus.

Prayer as a means motivates us:

When I was practicing with those Spanish CDs, I often felt inadequate and uninspired—until I remembered why I was doing it: to connect with my friend. If our goal is to “learn to pray,” we may become discouraged at our progress or proud of our spiritual prowess. Either way, we won’t draw closer to the One who made us for himself. But when we see prayer as the language of our soul- as a way we to grow closer to God instead of some requirement for Christian living- our motivation grows. Thus, I often remind myself of the incredible privilege I have of connecting and communing with God, and this frames my entire outlook on prayer.

Prayer as a means embraces any style:

While there are many valuable tools that can help us learn to pray, two things will be true of our journey. First, it will never look like someone else’s. Why? Because we are uniquely made, and prayer is a gift that enables us to commune with God in our own personal style. I personally get overwhelmed at all the books, conferences, and podcasts on prayer (some of which I’ve written!). I can easily come to spend time with God already bogged down. Although we can learn from others, in the end, we must find our own way to connect authentically with God, releasing ourselves from the burden of living up to some external standard.

The second thing about our prayer style is that it will change and grow over the seasons of our lives, and thus we never become proficient—we are always learning. Because the God with whom we are growing in intimacy is infinite in his transcendence, we will spend a lifetime discovering more profoundly how to commune with him. Even into eternity, the language of our souls will expand, so there is simply no pressure to figure it out now. This is incredibly freeing, once we really believe it.

Prayer as a means invites us to come as we are:

While external standards can become a barrier to prayer, internal ones can be even worse. We feel guilty because we haven’t prayed in a while or unworthy because we lashed out at our kids this morning. Shame, embarrassment, or guilt will always make us want to run from God instead of to him. But these are the very times we need prayer most, the reason God gave us this language of our soul. He is not waiting for us to achieve some level of holiness before we commune with him, but instead invites us to come to him and let him make us holy as we bask in his presence. This frees us to come to God as we are, not as we wish we were or think we should be.

Prayer as a means frees us from wordiness:

Silence is a rare commodity today. Our constant exposure to digital noise can make us uncomfortable with the stark emptiness of solitude in God’s presence. Our minds, addicted to movement and perpetually distracted, find it awkward to be still and know that God is with us. But this is just the place of peace we so desperately need, the respite from the raucous reality of life, the antidote to the anxiety that plagues our culture. The beautiful thing about prayer as the language of our soul is that we do not have to speak. Indeed, Scripture assures us that will there be times when words fail us, when they simply are not necessary or even helpful. David wrote: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:5). Isaiah reminds us that in quietness and trust we find strength (Isaiah 30:15). In Paul’s eloquent treatise on the Spirit, he shows us that when prayer without words happens, we are going deep, groaning from our depths, allowing the Holy Spirit to pray in our place. In this, our intimacy with God increases, which is the ultimate purpose of prayer (Romans 8:26-27).

Prayer as a means keeps it central, not peripheral:

We can tend to view prayer as one of the many disciplines we ought to embrace as followers of Jesus, and it is. Yet this limited view doesn’t begin to portray the grand panorama of prayer’s purpose. Jesus taught us that knowing him is the very essence of eternal life, and that in finding him we experience life (John 17:3, 5:39). Thus, we must never view prayer as a peripheral activity that we may or may not get to, but rather as the way we fulfill our destiny as God’s children. Prayer then, is the common thread woven through everything we do, enabling all our life to revolve around our relationship with God.

That’s it—the tip that I come back to again and again as I seek to embrace a life of prayer. Prayer is God’s gift to me, the language of my soul that enables me to know him, which is the purpose for which I was created. This means that my soul needs prayer to thrive like my body needs air to breathe—a simple but beautiful truth!

Dive deeper into prayer in The Soul at Rest: A Forty Day Journey into a Life of Prayer by Tricia McCary Rhodes

Read: Can the Song “Reckless Love” Make Your Prayer Life Better?
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