Re-Learning Our Prayer Voices

I remember how, every time she would pray, her tone of voice would suddenly change. She was lively and boisterous, full of laughter, certainly not quiet—but as soon as she began to pray, her voice would become hushed, shy, reverent. For months when we gathered for Bible study in my tiny Belizean apartment, I would stop her in the middle of her opening sentence and tell her to start again as if she were talking to me. Eventually she began to catch herself.

Some of us have our “prayer voices.” Others of us revert to Thee and Thou and archaic phraseology we would never utter elsewhere. We use big words or repeat phrases we’ve heard scores of times, without thinking about their sense or how painfully Christian-ese they sound. Even if we have no trouble speaking up in a group, we grow anxious at the thought of praying aloud.

We walk always in a tension of God’s holiness and closeness as Christians. He is holy and above all, worthy of our awe, our fear, our open-mouthed silence. But He also calls Himself our Father, and has drawn us close to Himself through the work of Jesus, inviting us to be His beloved children and heirs of His Kingdom. Almighty God has stooped low to reach to us. This is the mystery and wonder of our faith.

We can respond in faith to His invitation of intimacy through our prayers. We do not need to try to reestablish Him at arm’s length through flourishes of language or tone. We can come to Him in simple speech, with simple requests and thanks. We can tell Him honestly our thoughts and feelings, seeking His counsel and comfort as we would a trusted friend. We can offer Him heartfelt and excited thanksgiving, as well as shed tears of pain and disappointment.

How ridiculous would it be if you went to your closest friend only when you were happy and contented? Or only expressed bland and generic formulations of thanks? Or only spoke in forced tones after you had scripted a response? It would seem there was something amiss in your relationship!

We walk in this tension—and it is a tension. Though I might not mention it in this particular post, there are problems when we make Jesus into our buddy and strip Him of His sovereignty and authority. But it’s important to remember that our Father invites us to come to Him with confidence, as His children.

Think of a small child. When she is excited, she yelps with delight and runs to show her parent—“Daddy, look!” she says, holding her treasure to his eyes. And when she is hurt, she again runs—“Daddy, look!” she says again, tearfully holding her scrapes and bruises before his eyes. Her confidence does not undermine her respect of her Father. Her complete faith in her Father’s strength partnered with his concern is what drives her to his presence with both delight and sorrow.

This is our Heavenly Father, as well, friends. May we approach the throne of grace with confidence, for we can come to Him without performance and polished speech. He delights in our simple, heartfelt communication with Him.