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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

If you fail to pray, can you write a book about prayer?

I have finally admitted to myself that I am writing a book on prayer. Though the questions that I have center on the subject of desire - what, if anything, can we really want from God? -the book answers that question by exploring the language of the Lord’s Prayer.Prayer, although not exclusively the act of petition, is supposed to include presenting our requests to God. But were I to venture a guess, we feel a bit guilty when we do. I should be more thankful, more content. We think that the holiest prayers ask the least. We think that the holiest pray-ers were the people who could self-forget, focusing instead on the majesty and glory of God. We think we are meant to discover the perfect beauty and bounty of God, and this would then teach us to need nothing – and want nothing. The only trouble is, that’s absolutely NOT what the Scriptures teach. Yes, we are guilty of infinitely more self-absorption than we know. The Bible is pretty clear on that. And yes, we should be pretty darn realistic when it comes to attending to the self-interested motives and intentions behind our prayers. And yes, prayer is intended to confront us with God’s perfection. But our sobered self-appraisal does not warrant that we give up on the real business of praying, which, as I stubbornly defend, gives us, not only access to the very throne of God, but permission to ask. No man or woman is really worthy of this privilege of petition. Only Jesus. C.S. Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity, reflects on the opening address of the Lord’s Prayer [Our Father, who art in heaven}: “Do you now see what those words say? They mean quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God. To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ.” And this is our awesome, undeserved invitation to pray ⎯ and to want. I do not feel qualified to write a book about prayer. My prayer life isn’t one I would uphold as a model of holy petition. I, like you, struggle to pray consistently. I, like you, fail to ask God specifically. I don’t acknowledge often enough the profound gratitude to God that I should feel (and don’t). I don’t approach prayer as an exercise of worship. I pray when I’m in a scrape or a bind. I pray when I see no other solution. I pray when I’m feeling miserable and need a pick-me-up. I pray most fervently when there’s something in it for me. But what is probably most true of my life is that I pray too little. Paul Miller says in his book, A Praying Life, “If you are not praying then you are quietly confident that time, money, talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how tired you are, you will find the time to pray.” I am writing a book on prayer. Me, little old prayer failure, me. And I simply have to remind myself of the purposes for which I write: I write to teach. And sometimes that means teaching me and only me. A sermon to the self: that’s what this whole discipline of writing has become.