Answering God.

Prayer is answering God.

This means that we aren't the ones that speak first.  God has spoken.  Anything we say is in response to what He has already said.

When Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he gave them a prayer to recite.  "When you pray, say this..." he says.  Say!  He gave them their first prayer!  There's a reason we call it "the Lord's prayer."  Its his.  Not ours.

When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he gives them the prayer.  His prayer.  He said "recite this in your room, when no one else is around."  He wanted these words to shape them, form them, nourish them, and give them substance for life.  He wanted his words to become their prayer.

Eugene Peterson said that "We have to understand the overwhelming previousness of God's speech to our prayer."

Yet the only way I've ever been taught how to pray is by coming up with my own words.  Telling God how I feel.  Asking God for things that I want.  The only kind of prayer that's ever been modeled for me is the kind where we do all the talking.

But if prayer is first an acknowledgment that someone has spoken and still speaks to us, it must first and foremost look more like listening.  Silence.  Decluttering our hearts.  Stilling all the voices that compete for our attention.  Training our minds and bodies to be centered and quiet, receptive to whatever it is the God who has already spoken wants to give to us.  According to Henri Nouwen, prayer means making God your only thought (tweet this!).

So if we're going to learn how to pray maybe we need first to figure out how to listen.  Maybe what we need are some simple prayers to recite, rather than trying to come up with something "authentic." Maybe we already have everything we need in God's word and world to perceive and attend to his presence.

God is a God who speaks something into nothing, and just as His Spirit hovered over the chaos of the waters at creation, he hovers over our lives ready to do the same.  Nouwen says prayer is God's breathing in us so that we can participate in the intimacy of God's inner life, and in doing so be born again

Here's one prayer practice I love that helps me.