“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” (Psalm 50:15)
Prayer is a conversation that begins with God. We speak to a God who has first spoken to us. The first word is not your responsibility. This is important to know, especially if you are struggling, trying to start the conversation. Where are you to begin? What are you say? For what things should you ask? These are difficult, even impossible questions if it’s up to you to break the silence. But God has spoken. He has given us words — words that invite prayer — even better, words we can use in prayer. The glorious thing about these words is that when we use them, we are not just speaking, we are also being spoken to. Herein lies the great secret of growing in that great art of conversation with God:Our first responsibility is not to speak but to listen. When we pray the Bible back to God, we can do both at the same time.
I find the Psalms especially useful in this regard. Of all the parts of Holy Scriptures, the Psalms form a compendium of, what Calvin called, sung prayers. They are designed to lead us by the hand into the Throne Room, furnishing us with an anatomy of all the parts of the soul (Calvin). Used regularly, they help us grow up to a proper knowledge of God and of ourselves. We need this. Scarred by Adam’s choice, we are ever prone to think too much of ourselves and not nearly enough of God. As a result, our souls (and the prayers they utter) become like a three day old helium ballon. Shrunken. Wrinkled. Saggy. Earthbound. So, when we should be soaring in the heavens, we find ourselves clinging to the dust.
The Psalms form a powerful corrective, lifting us up to the heavens, unveiling the glory, opening the doors to the Throne Room, and letting us peek inside. We may come to them cold and dry, but we seldom leave that way. The Words improve us from the inside out. They fix our prayers on the way up. As we muse, the fire begins to burn. As you pray today, take some of the great Psalms of Praise (Eg. Psalm 145, or 146, or 147). Let them inform your prayers, adjust your vision of God, and realign your view of yourself. As you do, remember the rule of the Fathers: pray until you pray, pray until you are conscious of being heard, and pray until you receive and answer.