I love to cook. I love looking at new recipes, and finding new ways to use fresh ingredient, use up that last bit of leftovers, or stretch staple foods like beans, flour, or rice. And I love to pray. I love being able to lift up praises, requests, and even questions. I love knowing that I can confess even my most shameful thoughts or deeds to a God who already knows, loves me more than I can imagine, and stands eager to forgive me and strengthen me to make wiser choices.
Cooking can be exciting, challenging, and creative. But it doesn’t have to be. I don’t have to cook at all in our culture. I can (at some expense) dine out every day, and let someone else do all the work. Or, I can buy pre-made meals, “processed” foods and “instant” mixes– “just add water,” “cooks in 6 minutes,” “ready to eat.” I can pray “processed” prayers, too. I can recite prayers of others, mumble graces by rote, and even read off a list of requests with little or no effort or emotion.
But processed prayer isn’t healthy– no more than processed food. Oh, it won’t seem much different– at first. And it isn’t “bad”–every once in a while. But a steady diet of praying someone else’s words and thoughts doesn’t build a personal relationship. We miss out on the “process” of praying, and the end result is not as fresh and healthful.
When I cook from scratch, I have to follow a process:
- I need to make sure I have the proper ingredients.
- Some ingredients need to be seeded, skinned, peeled, chopped, or otherwise readied before they can be used.
- Ingredients need to be added in the proper order.
- Measurements are important. 1 teaspoon of salt is not the same as 1/2 cup of salt!
- I need to use the proper methods– simmer, boil, chill, bake, etc.
- Timing is crucial, too. Cookies may take 10 minutes to bake– a roast may take 3 hours.
Praying “from scratch” also follows a process:
- I have to have the right heart attitude.
- Distractions need to be put aside.
- I want to include all the “ingredients” of a deep prayer– Adoration and Praise; Acknowledging God’s Sovereignty and Power; Confession and Repentance; Thankfulness; Presenting my requests; Lifting up the needs of others; and Committing to Listen and Obey God.
- Timing is important–I need to make time to visit with God in Prayer. It shouldn’t be an afterthought or another activity to squeeze in IF I have a chance!
That doesn’t mean that we can’t (or shouldn’t) pray “in the moment” or recite The Lord’s Prayer, or the Prayer of St. Francis, or another written prayer. It doesn’t mean that we should make all our prayers from a “recipe” or a formula. But if our prayer “diet” is becoming dependent on “processed” prayers, we may need to go back to the kitchen!