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Searching for Words to Pray

Written By Ben Beasley

I’ll be honest with you: there are times I have found it hard to be honest with God. The strange thing is, it’s not because I want to be dishonest with God. Sometimes it’s because I am stressed and anxious, and my prayers are fast-paced and emotionally disengaged. Sometimes it’s just because I am angry, and due to my personality and whatever else is going on inside me, I struggle to address my anger and I avoid it. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the energy or the focus to center myself on him for a long time. 

 

Searching in the past

Here’s another reality: sometimes, when I am praying I am unable to conjure up the words to say what I really want, or what I really need to, in order to be honest with God. Even when I have a strong desire to be with God in prayer,  I can struggle with words. For someone who loves poetry and all forms of literature, that’s hard to even admit. 

Over the years I have taken great comfort in the fact that God can use my silence; my silent mouth and body that is just sitting and seeking to be close to him. Conversely, I take great comfort in the fact that I can trust God listens when I just ramble on and purge out all my random cares. But even more satisfying and expressive of my own feelings are prayers of the saints of old. These are prayers that seem holier than me, prayers that when I pray them, I feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of Christians who lived faithfully. 

When people ask me what my prayer life is like, I often respond with a simple truth. I typically have a mantra going on in the back of my head throughout the day. It’s the Jesus prayer; it is my quickest access point, my default, the groove I often fall back into when I pray. It goes like this:

“Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.” 

This prayer, over and over, is a place of honesty for me. It’s raw. I find great comfort in it. 

 

Finding in the present

And yet, recently I really felt a desire bubble up in me for more words. And not just the easiest, accessible ones, and not ones from the ancients. I want words that correspond to my modern life, but still have real depth. That get at the heart of my distractions, my anxieties, my fears, my thoughts about God, and my thoughts about myself. 

In my searching I’ve stumbled into some modern prayer books that have given me fresh language—new words to pray. As someone who often celebrates the ancients and their faithfulness to God in prayer, I have been surprised at how, through these fresh prayers, I can enter into real, honest moments with God. In fact, these prayers have given me the words that I desire but don’t have, that my heart feels and needs. 

In Living Like Monks, Praying Like Fools by Tyler Stanton I found a prayer by Ted Loder. He passed away recently, but he was a longtime pastor in Philadelphia, and spent much of his life writing prayers. I don’t agree with him on all things, but there are a few of his prayers that have connected with me in the past months. If you are anything like me, the prayer printed below offers words that correspond to my world, my lived reality, and offer it up to God in a comprehensive way. 

 

“There is Something I Wanted to Tell You” 

Holy One, there is something I wanted to tell you, but there have been errands to run, bills to pay, arrangements to make, meetings to attend, friends to entertain, washing to do… and I forget what it is I wanted to say to you, and mostly I forget what I’m about or why. O God, don’t forget me, please, for the sake of Jesus Christ…. 

Eternal one, there is something I wanted to tell you, but my mind races with worrying and watching, with weighing and planning, with rutted slights and pothole grievances, with leaky dreams and leaky plumbing and leaky relationships that I keep trying to plug up and my attention is preoccupied with loneliness, with doubt, and with things I covet and I forget what it is I want to say to you and how to say it honestly or how to do much of anything. O God, don’t forget me, please, for the sake of Jesus Christ…. 

Almighty one there is something I wanted to ask you but I stumble along the edge of a nameless rage, haunted by a hundred floating fears, of war, of losing my job, of failing, of getting sick and old and having loved ones die, of dying, and I forget what it is the real question is I wanted to ask and I forget to listen anyway because you seem unreal and far away and I forget what it is I have forgotten. O God, don’t forget me, please, for the sake of Jesus Christ…. 

O Father in Heaven, perhaps you’ve already heard what I wanted to tell you, What I wanted to ask is, forgive me, heal me, increase my courage, please. Renew in me a little of love and faith, and a sense of confidence, and a vision of what it might mean to live as though you were real, and I mattered, and everyone was sister and brother.

What I wanted to ask in my blundering way is don’t give up on me, don’t become too sad about me, but laugh with me, and try again with me, and I will with you, too. What I wanted to ask is for peace enough, to want and work for more, for joy enough to share, and for awareness that is keen enough to sense your presence here, now, there, then, always. Amen.

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5 Comments

  1. Bob Carey

    This kind of blog will not win people to JESUS. It is depressing and obviously written by a depressed person who lacks the joy of the Lord in his present life. I am not suggesting that Christians not share their real situations, and spiritual struggles, but I think this blog is sub-Spirit-filled-life experience. Our church is discouraged. Our pastoral staff is discouraged. Attendance is way down. There is reason to be concerned, but we will not solve the attendance problem by negativity.

    Reply
  2. Ben Beasley

    Hi Bob, I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to comment. Your comments are heard. Believe it or not, I actually think there are many reasons to be encouraged. God’s church can flourish in any age, and one of my prayers not listed in this blog is that I/we continue to grow in trust in the Holy Spirit to minister His joy and peace in the midst the challenges of life. My best, Ben

    Reply
  3. Chip Shockey

    Bob and Ben, not meaning to put down, argue with or confront Bob’s comment but just say that my reaction was just the opposite; I was surprisingly encouraged by the prayer and the blog in general. And I share Bob’s concerns stated in his comment but that was not where my mind and heart were taken by Ben’s post. As with many things, neither a wrong or right reaction; both/and is possible in the Kingdom. And all of this for me is in the context of my personal aversion to “prepared” written prayers as opposed to “spontaneous” prayer (a long story I won’t share here). But because of that aversion, it took me a week to force myself to read this prayer and when I did right now I was greatly blessed!

    These are deeply trying times in our society, the world, and yes, our church. But I am fighting every day not to despair and bail. The battle is the Lord’s, He is still very secure on His throne and if He chooses to fight His battles with a remnant (think Gideon), He knows best. I think the remnant can be built up by challenge and adversity. Honesty is good. Pure happy talk and false images of spiritual perfection only hurt the credibility of those called to lead our flock. There is of course a balance in all this.

    Sorry for the length but there is one other essential emphasis I have seen Ben bring to us in the reminder that the Holy Spirit is a co-equal part of the Triune Godhead. We are often uncomfortable with that mercurial part of the Trinity but if we ever needed a supernatural power source like Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be it is now.

    Reply
  4. Bruce Stahl

    Thanks Ben, for you thoughtful blog. Most of the time I don’t respond to these but pray is something I keep working on because I am not a good prayer. I am amazed at the eloquent prayers of David, Solomon, Daniel and Paul and others. Lots to learn from these prayers. The acronym ACTS Adoration, Confession Thanksgiving and Supplication is a from I often follow. So often I have been guilty of entering God’s presence mouth first with my needs without acknowledging who I am in the room with. So I use Psalm 100 often, entering His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise… And on it goes. I don’t approach God as a sinner but a saint who often blows it. He has adopted us into His family and invites us to call Him Abba! (Rom. 8:15-16). Which I often do. This isn’t flippant or irreverent or disrespectful but relational. Of the many names by which redeemed people are referred to in Scripture the title of sonship trumps them all. I am a son of the King. Perhaps a son who is a servant, or a son who is an ambassador or a son who is a steward etc. God loves me and you with an unmatched intensity! It is difficult for us to understand sometimes. Certain Psalms help me with this. An old song Day by Day has a line that says: He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure, gives unto each day what He deems best…A heart kind beyond all measure. I have never met anyone this kind.
    I go through some confession of the days downfalls and ask for forgiveness in advance for sins I will likely commit. Not that I am willful about it but I know me and that I often stumble. He picks me up like the wonderful Father that He is and says, “Now try that again.” I use the promise of 1 John 1:9 to restore my fellowship. I look forward to the time to be with Jesus and the saints from all ages. The Bible gives us so much to ponder about our future. The best is yet to come.
    It is late and I am probably rambling. I hope that all makes sense. Prayer is growing in relationship with Jesus.
    Blessings,
    Bruce

    Reply
  5. Ben Beasley

    Hi Bruce,
    Thanks for your willingness to share your thoughts, reflections, and lessons learned! There’s lots to learn for all of us, and I’m grateful we are on the journey together!
    Blessings,
    Ben

    Reply

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