By Hal Green
Have you ever tried to hurry taking a breath, say before diving under water? Your body almost resists you. In ordinary circumstances, your lungs operate automatically, without you needing to attend to whether or not to breathe or how much to take in and for how long. You are born breathing and you can never stop as long as you are in the flesh.
You are also born to pray. Your soul needs regular intakes of the Spirit, as your lungs need air. Interesting that both Spirit and air share the same word in the Greek New Testament: “pneuma.” Just like your lungs in breathing, your soul does not want to be rushed in prayer. Do not hurry prayer, even if you are in a hurry. You cannot speed up the entrance into a prayer state. A “rush to relax” is as much an oxymoron as “speed up to slow down.” Remember that God knows your thoughts and heart before you pray; God knows what you want to say before you do. It is you who may need to put into words what you do not yet know is bubbling up within you.
Rather than attempting to rush a prayer, you need to say, mean and feel the power of a single word, like “Help!” That is really all you need to say, especially when it is heartfelt. God will know what stands behind your plea. Then trust that God has heard your single-word prayer. The “heartfelt” is more important to God than the words. Jesus said:
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:7-8).
Yet much in our lives seems to demand that we hurry, whether it is the insistence of an impatient child to “do for me now!” or the demands of a stressed-out boss to “finish this project today!” Psychologist Karl Jung said, “Hurry is not only of the devil; hurry is the devil.” When you are in a hurry, it becomes difficult to determine what matters more and what matters less. Values tend to flatten out as pressure and stress build. In a harried hurry we wonder, “What must I do? What can I do? And in what order should I do these things, including praying?”
Where there is hurry, guilt is not far behind, as is defensiveness. When we are unable to do what we want to do — or believe that we are supposed to do — in the space of time it may take us, our frustration can easily prompt us to seek to justify ourselves before God.
God already loves you and sent Jesus Christ to show you how much. One thing about Jesus in the Gospels: He never seems to be in a hurry. Rather, wherever Jesus went, he was fully present to the person he met there. So in prayer, just show up; relax, take a breath, and be fully present to the God who is ever present to you.
(Hal Green, Ph.D., is author of Pray This Way to Connect with God. You can contact him at email@example.com.)