There is a truism I have discovered and experienced more times than I can count over the more than four decades of my life, and that is: Prayer is hard. It is something many of us come to realize, and yet it is not regularly admitted. I bet, if you are still reading, there is something to this truism that rings with authenticity and clarity for you.
For many years, the difficulty I had praying kept me from a regular and vital prayer life. During this dark time, I stumbled onto a quote that was of great encouragement and moved me beyond thinking that if I couldn’t pray perfectly, I couldn’t pray at all. The quote comes from Dom Chapman:
Pray as you can, and do not try to pray as you can’t.
After reading that quote, the parable that Jesus tells of a tax collector and a Pharisee came to my mind (Luke 18:10-13). The Pharisee prays from a presumptuous and arrogant place, while the tax collector humbly acknowledges his more realistic place before God. Jesus’s point is that we are to come to God in prayer—not as we desire to be, or wearing a mask to find God’s approval. To approach God the way the tax collector does is to fight the temptation to employ pious language or perfect formulas or to act like we are more accepting of God’s will than reflects our personal reality.
When we find it difficult to pray, we should avoid the temptation to put on a mask or bring only the holy parts of ourselves before God. Let us come before God in honest prayer, bringing our whole selves, praying as we can—with few words or many; not using language that puffs us up but words that reveal our need for God’s mercy, power, and love.
When I find it difficult to pray, I often pray simply: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.
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