Is there any area of the Christian life in which we feel more inadequate than in prayer? Is there any area of the Christian life that exposes greater feelings of helplessness and shame? I know some true prayer warriors, people who dedicate themselves to hours and hours of prayer, yet even they confess to knowing so little about it and having so little confidence in what they do and what they pray.
It should come as no surprise that the Christian market is flooded with books on prayer, books that try to teach the how’s and the why’s of prayer. There are hundreds of good options and thousands of terrible ones. I’ve read many of them and often recommend some of my favorites.
I love reading books on prayer, but sometimes I wonder if I like reading books on prayer more than I like praying. Reading comes naturally to me, prayer does not. Reading is easy to understand, prayer is not. Finishing a good book and looking back on all the parts I have highlighted gives a sense of accomplishment that prayer does not. Reading books on prayer too easily becomes a substitute for praying.
I do not mean to knock the books themselves. They are a blessing and have often proven helpful to me. But ultimately I have learned far more by putting the books aside and just praying—praying on my own and praying with others. For all the good things the books have taught me, I have learned more when praying quietly by myself, praying out loud by myself, praying with Aileen, praying with my fellow elders, praying at church-wide prayer meetings, just plain praying.
If I want to learn to pray for my family, and if I want to pray for them well and effectively, I need to get on my knees and pray for them and I need to persevere in those prayers.
If I want to learn to pray for the people in my church, I need to pray with them and pray for them.
If I want to learn how to confess sin in prayer, I need to pray and confess sin, trusting that the more I do it, the more natural it will become.
If I want to learn to better express gratitude in prayer, I need to pray and thank the Lord for his good gifts, and then do it again. And again.
If I want to more naturally pray with my Bible open, praying Scripture, I need to start praying Scripture and trust that in time it will become easier.
If I want to know how to pray, I just need to pray.
No book, no classroom, no course, no instructor can teach me so much about prayer that I can avoid the the hard work of learning on my knees. Ultimately prayer itself is the classroom.