We Don’t Know How to Pray {Book Club}

One evening, I asked my discipleship training class to look back over the previous 4 weeks of their lives and share how discipleship was affecting them. There were descriptions of attitude changes, increases in the nine fruits of the Spirit, and hot tempers reigned in.

Then one woman humbly confessed, “This discipleship is messing me up! I have been in church my whole life. I’m a leader at my church! I thought I knew everything about being a Christian, but now I realize I know nothing.” The more she learned from the Bible, the more she realized she still had a lot left to learn.

In Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Hayley Barton has something similar to say about prayer: “It is only the young in Christ who think they know how to pray; the rest of us know we are just beginners.”

The apostle Paul (who claimed that if anyone could boast about knowing much, it was him) said it this way, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Before we mature, before we begin learning about God’s kingdom and experiencing his presence, we think we know. The more we learn, the more we realize that our understanding is but a tiny sliver of reality.

I have read extensively about prayer, including, but not limited to, Timothy Keller’s book Prayer, Andrew Murray’s Lord Teach Us to Pray, Kay Arthur’s Lord Teach Me to Pray, and T.W. Hunt’s Disciple’s Prayer Life. This year, I decided to finally stop reading about prayer and do it – spend time actually praying. I was appropriately convicted when Barton said, “In most cases, the reason we prefer to talk about prayer and read about prayer but don’t actually pray has more to do with our ambivalence about intimacy than anything else.”

We resist intimacy because it means giving up control. It occurs to me that I also avoid intimacy with God because I don’t want to face those offensive ways that David mentions in Psalm 139 (“Search me and know my heart…”). Being with God makes my sin impossible to ignore. And once I am faced with it, I have to do something about it, and that’s hard work. My sin nature rebels against it. Even so, my soul longs for intimacy. And here I find myself hiding from God, like Adam and Eve in the Garden, as if he doesn’t know where to find me and why I’m hiding.

Instead of avoiding God, I must dig deeper into my relationship with him. Not only will I grow spiritually, but I will work through my fear of intimacy with God. I’ll face my sin and deal with it.

Barton discusses phases we go through when “the ability to pray eludes us, and for the first time we know – really know – that we do not know how to pray as we ought.” She believes that “having our prayers go cold” is a sign that we are ready to grow in our relationship with God, and he’s inviting us to go deeper. Does this ring true to you? Have you experienced a time when the ability to pray eluded you? How did you begin to pray again?

The best thing is that “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes…for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27) How great is it that God himself intercedes when we don’t know how to pray?

I love the way the chapter was wrapped up. All of life is prayer.

“Any approach to the spiritual life that sets up false or awkward distinctions between prayer and life, or prayer and the other disciplines, seems to unnaturally rip apart elements of life that belong together or to unnecessarily complicate something that is in its essence quite simple. And so it happens that all of life becomes prayer.” Whether we are spending extended time dedicated to prayer, sending up a quick one as we go about our day, serving our family to the glory of God, walking in the good works he prepared for us, or whatever we do, the life of a believer is a continuous prayer.

Let’s talk more in the comments. What did you think of this chapter? How have you cultivated the discipline of prayer in your life? Did you choose a breath prayer following the practice at the end? Whether you are reading along with us or not, if you have an established rhythm for prayer, share it with us!

Reading Schedule:

April 2: Chapter 5

April 9: Chapter 6

April 16: Chapter 7

April 23: Chapter 8

April 30: Chapter 9 and Appendices

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


  1. Sarah Hilkemann March 27, 2019

    Thank you for sharing this, Rachel! Having been a Christian for over 25 years, it is convicting to think that I don’t really know how to pray. But it’s so true! It is definitely not as straight forward as I used to think it was, and yet there’s richness too that has come over the years as I keep learning.

    I had not heard of breath prayer until the prayer and stretching exercise video in the 2017 Velvet Ashes retreat. I go back to that video often, and love the breath prayer aspect of that time. I haven’t come up with my own, but often the theme of surrender and the prompts given by the woman who leads that, are exactly what I need.

  2. Karen Carlson April 9, 2019

    I am a bit behind on the reading as I’ve been traveling. I re-read last night my highlights of the prayer chapter. I came this morning wondering how other women have walked through and lived out the breath prayer. I’m afraid it’s still not resonating within me yet. I wonder if other’s have also not really “gotten it” since there are not many comments. I will check out the 2017 retreat as it is still on my computer. Thanks, Sarah.

  3. Rachel Kahindi April 9, 2019

    I have only a tiny bit of experience with breath prayer – also from the VA Retreat. There was an application in the chapter of using a breath prayer as a quick prayer while going about your day, as in “praying continuously” that I think could be beneficial. I’m not sure I “get” the extended time in breath prayer, either.

    1. Karen Carlson April 9, 2019

      It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Thanks, Rachel.

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