When I was in high school, there was a girl in my youth group who seemed to have an odd way of praying. She and I weren’t necessarily close friends, more like acquaintances. Her and I had different circles of friends, went to different schools and were separated by three grades. Needless to say, the only way that her and I were connected was our youth group. Even though she and I were different in age, as well as groups of friends, I remember her specifically because she would always begin her prayers (when we prayed as a group) with the phrase “Hey God.” This always puzzled me. It was awkward, I hadn’t heard anyone prayer like that. Who was she to think that we could begin praying by a simple “Hey God?”
The following is a reflection of how I think prayer has become a formula that Christians have adopted when they approach God, and how it falls short of recognizing the gravity of who we are coming before. It is also a reflection on how, in my opinion, prayer has become a one sided conversation, where we as Christians have managed to fill the entire prayer time with words, wishes, requests, and complaints. All of the following was in part started by this girl in my youth group, who helped me realize that our approach to prayer has been reduced to whatever we can fit between “Dear God” and “Amen.”
I want to preface this all by saying I am not condemning formulaic prayer. Any prayer, formulaic or not, is still prayer. In fact, I will go as far to say that I think that more Christians should be praying more often. If they follow a certain formula or not, they are still coming to God with their desires, hopes, fears, etc. What I am saying is that if we allow ourselves to be limited to the parameters of formulaic prayer, then we are actively missing the power of prayer. Being raised in the church, from Sunday school through Youth group, I had never encountered anybody who began their prayers with anything but the usual “Dear God,” or “Dear Heavenly Father,” etc. At first, it struck me as weird that this girl would begin her prayers with “Hey God.” Anything that didn’t follow the formula that I had been taught was weird.
The simple phrase “Hey God” completely transformed the way I thought about prayer. It’s so informal. It’s so simple. It’s so anticlimactic. But within the simple phrase of “Hey God” comes the biggest example of how prayer should be approached. Don’t get me wrong, we should all remember who it is that we are praying to. We are praying to the creator of the universe, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. But, we are also praying to the one that knit us together in our mothers womb and called us by name before time itself was set in motion. Our God knows us on an intimate level, and we should recognize that when we enter into prayer.
The reason why this girl’s simple “Hey God” was so powerful is because saying these words actively reflects how God is intimately involved in our everyday lives. Keeping in mind how vast and unknowable God is, by starting prayer with “Hey God” we are addressing God as an old friend, a confidant, a compassionate listener. God becomes our refuge. We confide our deepest anxieties, we reflect on the troubles of life, we exhort our fears and dreams, we recognize how broken we are. “Hey God” opens us up to be able to invite God into our deepest thoughts and fears. If we fall into the same pattern of prayer, we begin to make our problems and dreams into a grocery list of things we rattle off to God.
King David illustrates in Psalm 55 how we are able to address God as our close friend, our refuge, an open ear and outstretched arms. In Psalm 55, David cries out “evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and the Lord hears my voice.” David does not limit his prayer life to a simple five minute rambling before eating a meal, or in between worship songs, or a rushed conversation after Sunday’s service in an effort to get home to catch first pitch. He says openly that he cries out all day and the Lord hears his voice. David involves God in every part of his every day. He cries out to the one who hears his voice. David does not wait until right before he goes to bed to pray. He is constantly involving God throughout the day. Who are we to think that we can limit the amount of time we spend with God to a few minutes before we go to bed?
How little we think of our Creator that we have to schedule a time to talk. Prayer, unfortunately, is like doing laundry, you mean to get it done before it starts piling up, but the pile grows and grows and you are finally confronted with a pile of dirty laundry that HAS to be dealt with. Isn’t it the thought that counts? Isn’t God happy with us just thinking of praying? The answer is no. There is no “A” for effort when it comes to prayer. God continually blessing us with another day on this earth should cause us to approach our Redeemer with rejoicing, but we all have come to expect life every morning. We have to be intentional in our prayer, otherwise, we do not approach it with the right mentality. We reduce prayer to an item on our checklist of things to do, rather then the main priority of everyday existence. While we need to be more intentional in making time to pray, and continually being in prayer throughout the day, we also need to allow God to respond to our prayers. Prayer, unfortunately has become a one-way conversation in which we rattle off our list of request to God and end with Amen.
Another pitfall of prayer is feeling like we need to recite every single prayer request we have in order, while ranking them from most to least important while simultaneously not allowing God time to respond or to speak. Ecclesiastes 5 talks about how to approach God when entering the temple. Solomon describes how “your words should be few” when entering into prayer and worship before God. Solomon, often referred to as the wisest of Israel’s kings, is telling his readers to limit their words before the God of their fathers. The man in charge of the nation of Israel, the one who could order your death on a whim, or expel your family from Israel, the man who everyone waited for instructions from, who spoke often with mighty words, is telling us (as well as his nation) to let our words be few. We (because I am guilty of this too), have made prayer into a time in which we approach God with our problems and requests, and then end it by saying “Amen.”
Prayer needs to be more like a conversation. It needs to be a time of speaking and a time of listening. If you were talking with a friend, and they did not allow you to speak at all, and simply left after they had said what they needed to say, was it really a conversation? Does your friend leave the table feeling as though you heard them fully and have nothing to say in response? How so, then, can we assume that God has nothing to say in response to us? My opinion, is that the amount of time we spend rattling off our requests to God, should be matched (if not, more allotted) by time sitting in silence and listening for the voice of the Alpha and Omega. It cannot be a conversation if we don’t allow God to respond to us.
I hope that we can all be better at conversing with our creator. We are called to be in continual community with one another and God. How is that possible if we do not intentionally make time to talk to our Creator? Allow the Alpha and Omega to speak, and I’m sure you will hear the voice that has been echoing throughout eternity. We can go much deeper in our prayer life if we begin with the simple, wonderful, intimate, “Hey God.”