What Is True Prayer?
By Harold Klemp
Correct prayer is listening to God. If a person is going to err in prayer, it’s through too much telling or talking to God. There’s nothing wrong with telling or asking; there’s nothing wrong with talking to God. But after you’ve asked your question, listen. Be quiet and listen.
Listening is true prayer, prayer of the highest sort. Even prayer where you’re asking God something is of a high sort or it can be. But sometimes people carry it to extremes.
When I was a child, my parents had us say our childhood prayers at bedtime. As I grew up and went to divinity school, I would still say my prayers at night. Not that those of us at divinity school were very righteous. A very small percentage were truly pious, and the rest of us were about average. We got along. We knew God was there. We did our lessons; we did our Bible study and science and math. There were also those in divinity school who were quite nonpious.
I used to say my prayers nightly, but away from home I could try out my wings a little bit. Some nights I’d just lie there and ask God for all kinds of things. I’d ask God for riches. I’d ask God to get rid of my toothaches. They came from all the sugar I ate; I hadn’t made the connection between sugar and tooth decay. Every Sunday I’d go to the bakery and buy all this wonderful chocolate, all these jelly-filled rolls—I’d just stuff myself. I’d buy enough for my friends too. It took me years to figure out what I was doing, and I think the toothaches helped. Life has a way of teaching us better.
This is what I learned about prayer: that sometimes there is a wrong sort of prayer. You ask God to take away a toothache, when basically you should stop eating the things that give you the toothache. But that’s how we learn.
People ask God to make them rich, and at the same time they squander their money. They have done this their whole lives. What kind of a prayer is that? It’s a prayer of irresponsibility. You’re not taking responsibility for your own welfare.
Mostly, true prayer is listening to God.
Excerpted from Spiritual Wisdom on Prayer, Meditation, and Contemplation.