By Melissa Nelms
As someone who has grown up in and now works in the church, I have found prayer to be surprisingly challenging. On its face, prayer seems so simple, but life-creating, life-changing prayer takes a level of vulnerability with which I’ve only recently become comfortable. As I have become more comfortable with vulnerability, though, God has taken me on an adventure that has slowed my pace, changed the direction of my ministry, and helped me be present to those around me.
It’s been in the last year, discerning my call to ordained ministry, that I’ve learned the importance of being vulnerable before God in my prayers. In these raw and honest prayers—no fancy language, and all the big emotions—I’ve been able to express my fears and hesitance while also opening myself to receive the real power of the Holy Spirit leading me into this new season of ministry. Author Brené Brown writes, “Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s our most accurate measurement of courage.” When we are vulnerable before God, we receive courage through the Holy Spirit to do things beyond our human ability that have the power to change our lives and the lives of those around us.
Learning to pray vulnerably has also meant becoming comfortable with silence and solitude. I am an introvert, so you would expect this to come easily for me. However, the strangest part of being an introvert for me is that I honestly don’t like silence and solitude. The crowds and masses may not energize me, but I’m also not comfortable in complete silence and solitude. I am comforted by the knowledge that Andy is on the couch beside me as we read or that the kids are playing in the backyard with peals of laughter as I do laundry. Vulnerability in prayer means knowing ourselves more deeply and discovering things about ourselves that are contradictory, hard to accept, or just funny—like that you are an introvert who doesn’t like to be alone. It’s in this new self-knowledge that there is a challenge to grow.
Prayer is how we learn, how we change, how we grow. Richard Foster writes, “In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills.” I challenge you today to ask yourself the question, “How has God changed me through prayer?” If the answer is “God hasn’t” or “I don’t know,” then I invite you to go deeper in your prayer life, for to pray is to change.
Here are a few practices I have implemented into my prayer life that may bring you encouragement and confidence to try yourself. The key for me was to take baby steps. I chose one new practice every week or two, and this has helped me to remain accountable and to truly grow in my prayer life.
- Pray the Daily Office– Twice a day I pray the daily office, an ancient Christian practice of praying at set times throughout the day. It’s simple, takes about 10 minutes, and provides rhythm to my day. The daily office often includes silence, scripture, reflection, and prayer. I’ve been using Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day, but there are many resources available.
- Breath Prayers – These are short prayers, usually one line, which can be spoken rhythmically as you inhale and exhale. My breath prayer of late, since I have been practicing submission to God, has been this: As thou wilt (breath in), what thou wilt (breath out), when thou wilt (breath in).
- Pray Scripture – Choose a scripture that is meaningful to you, and when you simply don’t know what words to pray, recite the scripture as your prayer. We know in this way that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us “with sighs to deep for words” (Romans 8:26). The Psalms are great scriptures for praying.
- Pray Traditionally – Prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer or the Wesley Covenant Prayer are especially powerful when you pray them slowly and reflectively. In this way we can lean upon the faith of the “great cloud of witnesses” when our own faith is lacking.
- Pray Vulnerably – I have felt most empowered, most at peace, most changed when I simply get in my car, go to my sacred space in my house, or find an empty room in the office to speak out loud in the most open and honest manner possible. “God, today is hard. I don’t really know what to say or what to do, but I’m here. I’m listening, and I need you to speak. Do what you do. I love you.”
If you are willing to be changed, ready to encounter God and think God’s thoughts, prepared to change the world through your prayers, then I invite you on this adventure of prayer. Pray daily. Pray confidently. Pray vulnerably. Make prayer the business of your life, and get ready to change not only yourself, but the world around you.