Prayer: Keep it Simple. Keep it Real. Keep it Up.

“To be human is to pray,” says Pete Greig, founder of the global 24/7 prayer movement. He continues, “Prayer is the least weird, most natural, necessary, and wonderful invitation. But no one finds it easy. I guess we all need a little help.”

We all need a little help because, knowing that prayer is central to our life with God, we are prone to turn prayer into a mandatory performance. So, we try hard to do it right, believing the better we pray, the likelier we are to get on God’s good side and receive the answers we’re after.

It’s an exhausting way to pray, with the result that we become fatigued by our best efforts to pray our best prayers.

There is a better way. In How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People, Greig shares the best advice he ever got concerning prayer: keep it simple, keep it real, keep it up.

This aligns with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:5-8, where he tells his friends, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them…When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” [nlt]

Keep it simple, Jesus says. Keep your prayers short and to the point—there’s no extra credit for extra-long prayers.

Keep it real, Jesus says. Don’t act out a part God isn’t looking for you to play.

Keep it up, Jesus says. Don’t stop—keep talking with your Father about the real stuff of life.

Of the three instructions, the most challenging for many of us is the last: keep it up. We pray for a bit, and if we don’t see what we’re looking for, we move on. It doesn’t help, either, that we hear the exhortation Don’t give up! as a directive to pray harder. But it’s not. When it comes to prayer, Jesus isn’t looking to load us down with religious requirements. He isn’t cracking the whip, demanding we up our prayer game.

We hear “don’t stop” and think God wants a more Herculean effort. But then, when we pray and don’t see results, there’s a disconnect for us between Jesus’ theology and our experience of prayer.

Maybe it all comes down to our perception of what God is like. If we do not know God as the kindest Person we’ve ever met, our prayer life will reflect that. Perhaps that’s why, ultimately, Jesus points us not to the kind of praying we do, but to the kind of God we have.

“So, if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children,” he remarks in Mt. 7:11, “how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” [nlt]

Here, as elsewhere, it all comes down to relationship with the Father for Jesus. And maybe this is what Jesus would tell us when we give up too soon or wear ourselves out trying too hard: “Your problem is that you don’t know what the Father is like.” What Jesus offers is less a primer on proper praying than a guide for the best possible friendship with God.

So, keep it up, not as an obligation or a burden, but rather as an invitation to a beautiful, more authentic life with your Father.

Keep it up, not with arduous effort, longer petitions, and a threshold of desperation that you hope finally moves God to give you what you’re asking.

Keep it up, because that’s what friends do. That’s what love does. It keeps on showing up.

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