In today’s world, it’s hard enough for us to comprehend how to carve out 10-15 minutes for a meal, let alone engaging in persistent and continual prayer. We stumble over not only when, but how as well. It’s hard for us to put into words what’s on our heart. We labor to put into words the thoughts which have been barely formed in our heads. We struggle with the what, how, why, when, where – everything! It’s important and we don’t want to get it wrong, right?
But, prayer doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as a few short words or sentences said on the fly. It’s about pouring out one’s heart to God in whatever number or type of words that are needed. I think that’s one of the things that Jesus was getting at when he told the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisee’s prayer was long and complicated, verbose and self-serving. It was more about how great he was in comparison to others and less about the greatness of God. The publican’s prayer, on the other hand, was simple, direct, heart-felt and honest. He would not even look up to the heavens, and he spoke directly to God about his own shortcomings, his own weakness, his own need for forgiveness and mercy.
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”Luke 18:13
And that’s the point. It’s not about elaborate prose or flowery words expressed in perfect iambic pentameter. Prayer doesn’t have to be complex. The attitude with which a prayer is rendered is way more important than the manner in which it is delivered. The crux of the story is that when we pour out our heart to God in simple, straight-forwardness, what we’re really asking is for the Spirit of God to help us in our weakness. It recognizes that we cannot do it on our own, that we need God’s help, and this is how our prayer becomes more acceptable to God. In Psalm 51, David begins his prayer with this simple request:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;Psalm 51
And while David’s prayer is a bit longer than a few simple words, it is none the less a heart-felt outcry of brokenness, of sorrow, of repentance.
A simple prayer I pray continually, almost every day, especially when I come up against some of the crazy things people say and do, is “Lord, help me…” It’s just three words, but those little words can help me; to have courage when I need it, to practice patience when I need it, to inspire me to hold my tongue when I need reminding that words can be weapons, to “have compassion on them” when I’m frustrated, to refocus.
One of the most profound prayers in the entire Bible was uttered by Jesus and is just 10 words long.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”Luke 23:34