Anne Lamott is such an inspiring writer. Even her book titles are quirky and provocative. Her recent book on prayer, for example, is called Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers
She certainly has a way of stripping things back to basics.
I find that very helpful. Otherwise things get larded over with religious tomfoolery that prevents authenticity.
Way back in Genesis 4:26 we read the verse “And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the LORD.”
And prayer began…as simply as that. A natural impulse, it would seem, to connect with their creator.
We find prayer from people on their knees (1 Kings 8:54), from people bowing (Exodus 4:31), from those on their faces before God (2 Chronicles 20:18; Matthew 26:39), and those standing (1 Kings 8:22). So it’s not the posture that counts, but the truthfulness of it…
In fact we are clearly told not to be wordy or impressive-sounding: Matthew 6:7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again.”
We are told to be sensible and calm about it: Ecclesiastes 5:2 “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”
And, basically, it’s Help, Thanks and Wow, all the way, isn’t it? That’s the kind of prayer that develops our relationship with God.
If we never speak to our friends or never listen to them, then the friendship is doomed! Prayer is simply talking and listening with God: it’s the very way we build that relationship. Zechariah 13:9 puts it well, in suggesting prayer as a give-and-take type of relationship: “I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure, just as gold and silver are refined and purified by fire. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’ “
Jesus was emphatic about the value of this relationship : John 15:7 “But if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted!” This was spoken in the context of being joined to the “Vine” and thus in constant receipt of the sap flowing through and nourishing the branch. Every need will be supplied so long as you stay in place.
In Matthew 26:41, he again emphasised the necessity of maintaining that relationship, not simply for provision, but for protection: “Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!”
Paul summarised the centrality of prayer in Ephesians 6:18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
And it was Paul again, who offered one of the most interesting encouragements to prayer. In a profound passage that deserves a fair bit of thinking through, he claimed that the Holy Spirit will help you in prayer even when you don’t know how to pray!
Romans 8:26-27 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
I always remember my Sunday School teacher telling us that prayer is made up of A.C.T.S. : Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. When you’re seven years old, you may struggle with some of those words, (I know I did) but they stuck in my mind. And to this day they help me put my thinking in order when I come before God each morning.
But if I have to strip it back to its simplest components, then “Help, Thanks, Wow” is pretty good! It involves response at every level: a looking to God in every difficulty (Help!), a gratitude to God for his guidance and provision (Thanks!), and a rush of worship for all his wonders (Wow!).