In this article:
- Prayer is communing with God.
- Our goal is to be present.
- Maybe what God is really after is your intent and attention.
For the longest time — and, well, to this day — I’ve struggled with the thought that I do not pray nearly enough as I should. It’s a cloud of guilt that seemingly follows me everywhere I go.
A big part of it had to do with how I viewed prayer. My parents modeled a prayer life that was fervent and dedicated. They would get up at the crack of dawn to go pray with the church. When my dad couldn’t sleep, he’d go to church to pray. If he couldn’t make it to church, he’d go to his office space at home and pray. For hours.
That’s what prayer looked like to me. I mean, we Koreans are the epitome of “prayer warriors.”
A regular practice of a Korean church is what we call SaeByeok Gido which is roughly translated to Dawn Prayer. People would show up to church at 5am (or 6am) for this prayer service. There usually is a short sermon given by the pastor and then the rest of the time (usually an hour) is spent in what’s called tongsuh gido which can be roughly translated to “praying out loud together.”
There would be wailing; pounding of chests; crying — quite literally people pouring out everything in prayer. Like the sports cliche, we would leave everything on the field (sanctuary).
For the longest time, if it didn’t match the intensity and fervency of the Korean style (and my parents’ style) of prayer, it didn’t feel like I was praying. And I quickly learned that I didn’t have the capacity to match that kind of fervency and intensity. So I stopped praying.
Then I started feeling even more guilty that I wasn’t praying which led to not praying even more.
A pastor who doesn’t pray?
Not praying at all brought even more guilt and shame — which further drove me away from wanting to pray because now I felt like I didn’t know how.
But here’s the thing: there’s no “wrong” way to pray. Nor is there a “right” way to pray.
Prayer, at the essence, is communing with God. I realized this more as a parent — there really is no “wrong” or “right” way for my son to spend time with me. I just want to be near his presence. And there’s no “wrong” or “right” way for my son to communicate with me.
My son is a 12-year old on the autism spectrum. His grasp of language is comparable to a 4-year old. I don’t expect him to talk to me like a 12-year old. I don’t expect him to use all the proper grammar and vocabulary. I just want to communicate with him.
That’s the kind of heart that God has for us: God just wants to be with us; to commune with us. We don’t have to have the perfect prayer formula or use formal King James vocabulary. Stuttering; blubbering; blabbering; incoherent words — I genuinely don’t think God minds — just that we are speaking to God.
As I began to develop a spiritual discipline of prayer, I started to do two things. The first was that I started keeping a prayer journal. Just writing out my thoughts for God to… read(?). I wrote my joys, my praises, my concerns, my insecurities, my hopes, just anything and everything.
And secondly, instead of spending hours on end in prayer, like my parents and other Korean Christians, I discovered breath prayers. You say short prayer as you inhale and a short prayer as you exhale. My go-to has been saying “into your hands” as I inhale and “I commend my spirit” as I exhale. It keeps me grounded and mindful of God’s presence. It calms my nerves and anxiety.
Those two things are the main way I engage in prayer. But also, I do go to church to pray like my dad continues to do — but not as often as he does. And that’s okay. That kind of prayer life gives him life.
Our faith journey and the spiritual practices we use in it are not a one-size-fits-all. If it works for me, it may not work for you.
The point I’m trying to make is that the how we connect to God shouldn’t be the focus (or bring about guilt) but, instead, we should just simply continue to engage God in our daily living.
Don’t get caught up on the “am I praying the right way?” And simply pray. You’ll discover that God wants nothing more than you.
Joseph Yoo is the author When the Saints Go Flying in. He is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.