Before dinner and bedtime – the two times of day that I used to associate with prayer.
When I was younger, I used to say the same prayer each night. It was one that I made up on my own, and while I can’t remember it now, I know that it included some variation about being thankful for the day, my friends and family and a hope that tomorrow would bring the same joy. While these things sound good, my memorization of the prayer caused me to lose heart in the actual meaning of the words. I could have been talking about flying pigs and pickles and it would have sounded the same. I was mindlessly saying a string of sentences as if I were rattling off my ABCs.
I remember one evening when it was my turn to pray; I opened my mouth and no words came out. I sat there staring at my parents, trying as hard as I could to remember my prayer. I had flat out forgotten it and I didn’t know what to say. Instead of speaking the words on my heart, I stayed in silence, frustrated at my inability to remember the same thing I had said every night for months.
While that was many years ago, I look back on my childhood prayer and see an issue that many Christians face today.
We go through the motions – mindlessly and maybe even heartlessly.
This weekend, I traveled to České Budějovice with my JV team – a city in Southern Bohemia where my teammate and amazing friend Anicka is from. During our weekend visit, we stayed with her beautiful family who greeted us with tremendous hospitality. Each morning, Anicka’s mom would make us espresso and we’d talk about the history of the Czech Republic, her family and their life in the town and about having faith in a predominantly atheistic community. Every time we sat around the table, I would pray in thanksgiving for her family and for her mother’s openness to share her story with us.
The majority of our time in České Budějovice was spent with Anicka’s youth group. Within a small church with a older population, the youth group’s closeness and passion for the word left a big impression on me.
But even more than their desire to spend time together – whether in town, playing games at the church or venturing to the nearby town of Česky Krumlov with us, the thing that struck me the most was their committment to prayer. They prayed before, during and after youth group meetings; they prayed before and after meals; they even came to pray with us at the train station when we left. And these weren’t just two sentence prayers – they were deep, heartfelt and conversational.
Their prayers inspired me to remember how prayers are not memorized verses, but rather conversations with our Father. He wants to know about our lives – He wants us to come to Him and share our joys and challenges with praise and thanksgiving! And He desires us to come to Him at all times of the day – not just before dinner and bedtime.
This weekend in České Budějovice filled me with many things to be thankful for. But the thing I am most thankful for is that He refreshed my vision of prayer – that He surrounded me with a group of people who would encourage me in a way that I truly needed. While this may seem to be a juggernaut prayer, of sorts, I pray that my conversations with God may be flowing at all times of the day; that they may be ceaseless and praising Him during good times and hard times.