The Prayer of Incompetence and Failure

From time to time someone will ask how to pray ‘better’. When we tease out what is troubling the questioner, it usually turns out that he or she expects something to ‘happen’ in prayer; and when it doesn’t, feels a failure. Of course, something always  does ‘happen’ in prayer, but not always what we were expecting or hoping for. Remember Naaman and his indignation at being told to wash seven times in the Jordan when he was expecting Elisha to come out and perform some quasi-magical ceremony for him? We can be like that in prayer. We want things to go according to our notions, but God has his own ideas and they are rarely the same as ours.

One of the first lessons any of us has to learn is to pray as we can. We need to keep in  mind that God is in charge and rather keener on this prayer business than we are. Our enthusiasm tends to come by fits and starts. Not so God’s. He has been planning this moment of closeness with us from all eternity. That can be an encouraging thought when prayer seems dry and pointless, when all we experience is incompetence and failure. The secret is to keep at it, to go on trustingly with our prayer times. One of the lovely phrases George Herbert used to describe prayer was ‘the heart in pilgrimage’. Anyone who has undertaken a real pilgrimage, walked the Camino de Santiago, for example, will know that temptations to give up crowd in when one is tired and footsore, but one just goes on. So it is with prayer. Incompetence, failure, what do they matter when God has promised us his very self?

Note
There are some simple guidelines for prayer on our main website, here.

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6 thoughts on “The Prayer of Incompetence and Failure”

  1. That’s it exactly! Prayer is a relationship with God. It’s what God does in us during prayer that’s important even though we ‘feel’ nothing. Like the pilgrimage, it’s the keeping going that’s the hard thing. Especially when, unlike a pilgrimage, we can’t even see how far we’ve already come

  2. Great post!

    “…something always does ‘happen’ in prayer, but not always what we were expecting or hoping for. ”

    Amen.

    St. Paul tells us that “we don’t know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us”.

    I find that very comforting.

    Thanks.

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