Prayer is hard.
Or is prayer easy?
I think it's both. It's as simple as having a conversation with God, and yet it is complicated enough for there to be scores of books on the subject.
If you've been around the church for any length of time, I'm sure you've heard prayer reduced to simple formulas that direct us "how-to" pray and get it right. Acronyms like A.C.T.S. (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) and P.R.A.Y. (praise, repent, ask, yield) were tossed about frequently in my youth. As I got older, I became interested in exploring more of my prayer-options, and have experimented with a variety of methods - body posture prayers, classical/historical prayers, liturgy, prayer walks and labyrinths, mandalas, and even coloring. But no matter what form of prayer I tried, I always felt pressure to get it "right."
The problem was that when I sat down to pray, there was always a long laundry list of things that I was asking God to do for me, or areas I was asking him to work in, or people I was asking him to reveal himself to... I was always asking for something! And I asked, because we all ask, for God to work in our lives because he does work in them. But I had the feeling that I was supposed to balance out all my requests with praise and adoration, so that I wasn't just constantly asking him for things. And I did try to make it more balanced. I'm part of a Bible study group in which the leadership team prays corporately each week, and I've learned some great things from their model. We begin with adoration, which simply means stating things about God that we know to be true! God, you are holy, you are Provider, you are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, you are Alpha and Omega, you are truth and light. Sometimes I try to pray this way in my personal prayers. But the problem is that all my concerns come rushing in, tripping over one another in their eagerness to be heard by God.
Today as I was driving to work, I had a prayer experience that changed my thoughts about some of those things. (To first clarify, all those things that I sometimes struggle with in prayer are based in right thinking: I don't want to only pray when I need something from God, it is good to have structure when it's needed, and we should worship and praise our Father in private prayer!) Instead of trying to balance all the things I was asking for with the right amount of praise and adoration, I just prayed for what was weighing on my heart. I asked God for his peace in the day, for his joy and energy and strength, and for other people and situations that I want to see him move in. And as I came to the end of my requests, I felt the praise and adoration begin to flow freely in response to everything I had just asked him for. My praise was natural, and not forced, because I knew I was praising a God who had just heard all that I asked for, and who wanted to answer me! It flowed out of an safe place in my heart, and my trust that I had been heard and was loved.