Praying Naturally


Thomas Carlyle told a friend in a letter, “Prayer is and remains the native and deepest impulse of man.” There is an urge to pray because as Eugene Peterson writes, “Prayer is a response.” When we pray, we are always and at all times answering God, who spoke to us first. And we cannot hold our tongues or plug our ears. It is an ongoing call and response.

Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “In dealing with prayer, we are dealing, as the Scriptures suggest, with a natural function of human life.” Like eating and sleeping, working and playing, we must pray. We need this conversation like food and shelter, like companionship and community. We are dependent upon prayer and it is essential to our health and well-being.

In the gospel of Luke, when the disciples asked for a lesson on prayer, Jesus’ reply suggests that it is a given: “When you pray”—not if (11:2). Prayer will happen. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. We have to pray, whether we want to or not.

To be fair, there are times when it seems that praying is hard. We don’t know what to say or for how long to say it. Praying during difficult circumstances produces the same challenges. Still, prayer is not as complicated as it seems or our conditions put forward.

There are not a lot of ingredients. No special equipment or training required. Instead, we have all that we need to pray as it is an innate response. The conversation is apart of an instinctive rhythm.

We see this in Jesus’ life and ministry. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is on the road, on the move, your door-to-door Savior. He has stopped at Simon and Andrew’s house. Some persons bring flowers or desert; Jesus heals Simon’s mother- in- law.

In the morning, Jesus went out alone to pray. When they found him, he was ready again to do ministry. And it is easy to go to the next town with Jesus. But, let’s stop here and take note of the Son of God who takes a break.

Like the early disciples who looked high and low, we still don’t expect to find Jesus in prayer. We look for him in places of social influence, on stages and surrounded by throngs of people. But, Jesus is found in a solitary place because he didn’t come to hear the screams of adoring fans but in order that we might call on his name as followers.

He came to save the world but he could not do it without prayer. Prayer is a discipline. Those sleepy-headed disciples couldn’t watch with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane for an hour and not much has changed since then. Still, Jesus does not call the church the house of preaching or teaching, the house of singing or serving. No, Jesus says, “My house will be called a house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13).

Because prayer empowers us to proclaim, prayer informs our teaching. Prayer inspires our singing. Prayer equips us to serve. Without prayer, we can do nothing.

Prayer can’t be rushed or expected to conform to a routine. This is not how God speaks to us. And we need an ear for it: “Let anyone with ears listen” and let it happen naturally (Matthew 11:15).

Reverend Starlette Thomas* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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