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Prayer is both natural to us and something we have to learn. It’s like language itself: newborn children have the capacity for it; as they grow, they actualize that capacity by hearing and participating in the conversations which take place around them. Similarly, our earliest prayers are echoes of prayers which we hear in our families and faith-communities.
 
As I’m sure was true for many of you, my parents taught me to pray these words as I was going to bed each night:
 
Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake;
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
 
And, to pray, before eating dinner:
 
God is great; God is good.
Let us thank him for our food.
By his hands we are fed.
Thank you, Lord, for daily bread.

 

Members of the church I grew up in—the First Baptist Church of Conley, GA—also shaped my earliest ways of praying. The prayers I heard in that church were all extemporaneous (the idea of a written prayer would have been anathema to most of the good people of that church). The pastor would call on someone to pray, and he or she (usually he) would pray whatever words came to mind and heart in the moment. Though they didn’t prepare their public prayers in advance, the people who led us had a common stock of phrases on which they repeatedly drew. The invocation, for instance, almost always included the phrase: “Help us to worship thee in spirit and in truth.” The prayer before the offering predictably asked God to “bless the gift and the giver,” and the benediction frequently requested that God grant “traveling mercies.”

 

These words had—and still have—meaning for me, not in spite of my hearing them so often, but because 
I did. Repetition embedded them in my soul. Over time, other prayers have woven themselves into my spirit. The Lord’s Prayer has certainly done so, as has the ancient prayer sometimes known as “the Jesus prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

 

The people who taught me my first lessons in prayer gave me good words; but they gave me something else, far more valuable: their remarkable confidence in the nearness of God. They left me with the feeling that God was

right here, not aloof, distant, and inattentive. When life is difficult, we all need the reassurance that our prayers and the prayers of others help us to experience: God is always with us.

 

Grace and Peace,

Guy