Francois Fenelon said this about prayer:
Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one's heart, its pleasures and its pain, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability. Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself and others. If you thus pour out all your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say. You will never exhaust the subject. It is continually being renewed. People who have no secrets from each other never want for subject of conversation. They do not weigh their words, for there is nothing to be held back; neither do they seek for something to say. They talk out of the abundance of the heart, without consideration they say just what they think.
So often I hear people say that they don’t really know how to pray. This is an unfamiliar and alien thing to try and understand. This is because in the very statement they have contradicted themselves. To pray is nothing more than to speak. The only difference between the two is the object of our speech. If we can speak to each other with meaning, we are equally able to speak to God with meaning. In fact, the truth of the matter is that we as human beings are much more capable of communicating with God, because God understands the deepest parts of our hearts, and with him there can be no misinterpretation or misunderstanding. In this, we can speak more meaningfully to God than to any other person.
So what does it mean when someone says that they don’t know how to pray? What they often mean is that they have not mastered the platitudes and promenades of those who are eloquent in their liturgies. We have in our mind the perception that God honors our prayers based on the words that are said rather than the heart with which they are uttered. It is to this attitude that Jesus spoke when He said,
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
It is after this that Jesus gives us an example of prayer which simply asks for daily needs and for forgiveness and grace. Jesus directly addresses the mistaken expectation that we can often have in our prayers. God does not expect formality, procedure, or prosaicism. The simple desire of God in our prayers is that we cry out to him with our intimate thoughts and desires. It is the cry of a child to their parent. A baby cries out to his parent with his needs and desires. At times, the child does not even know or understand these needs and desires. They simply cry because they know they have a need. This is the same spirit that is in us as believers described in Galatians 4:6 when it reads; “And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’” God wants us to cry out even when we don’t know why, God wants us to ramble, God wants to know the desires of our hearts even as we discover them ourselves. We simply need to cry out to him to meet the most intimate need that we have as human beings, the need that touches all of our lives, the need to cry out to our heavenly father. We all know how to pray. We must simply do it, and in it we will find fulfillment and meaning that lies above platitudes, ceremony, and impressive elegance. The meaning that can only come from understanding God’s intimate knowledge of us, and seeking that same intimate knowledge of him in return. That is how you pray. Chuck Swindol says it well speaking of this passage when he says, “Blessed are they who attain to familiar, unreserved intercourse with God.” May we find familiarity with our God in the life of our simple prayers.