In favour of simple and direct prayer (we don’t need to be heroes).

Dallas Willard on simple prayer, which I found very helpful:

“Prayer, like all of the practices into which Jesus leads by word and example, will be self-validating to all who will simply pray as he says [that is, the Lord’s Prayer] and not give up. It is much harder to learn if we succumb to the temptation to engage in “heroic” efforts in prayer. This is important. Heroism, generally, is totally out of place in the spiritual life, until we grow to the point at which it would never be thought of as heroism anyway.

“There are, of course, people who pray heroically, and they are to be respected for what God has called them to… But that is a special calling and is for very few of us. To look to this calling as the ideal for our prayer life is only to assume a burden of uncalled-for guilt, and, quite surely, it is to choose an approach that will lead to abandoning prayer as a realistic…aspect of life in the kingdom. There will be heroic periods as they may be called for, but with no intention to be heroic. Always, we are simply children walking and talking with our Father at hand.

“…Prayer is never just asking, nor is it merely a matter of asking for what I want. God is not a cosmic butler or a fix-it man, and the aim of the universe is not to fulfill my desires and needs. On the other hand, I am to pray for what concerns me, and many people have found prayer impossible because they thought they should only pray for wonderful but remote needs they actually had little or no interest in or even knowledge of. 

“Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about “good things” that honestly do not matter to us. The way to get to meaningful prayer for those good things is to start by praying for what we are truly interested in. The circle of our interests will inevitably grow in the largeness of God’s love.

“What prayer as asking presupposes is simply a personal…relationship between us and God, just as with a request of child to parent or friend to friend. It assumes that our natural concerns will be naturally expressed, and that God will hear our prayers for ourselves as well as for others. Once again, this is clear from the biblical practice of prayer. It is seen at its best in that greatest of all prayer books, Psalms.

Accordingly, I believe the most adequate description of prayer is simply, “Talking to God about what we are doing together.”

~ Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, pp. 241, 242, 243.

7 thoughts on “In favour of simple and direct prayer (we don’t need to be heroes).

  1. Toni

    So what do YOU think about the section you posted?

    Maybe it’s the way I’m trying to read this, but he comes across as being confused and confusing, as though trying to make a point that he doesn’t quite get himself.

  2. Marc

    As I say, I found it very helpful. I mean that in terms of my own prayer life. Here’s what I said on the church website (where I cross-posted this):

    “I’m sometimes frustrated by my prayer life, which, when I compare it to what I think I know of the prayer lives of others (that’s probably my first mistake!), feels like it’s weak and shallow. Maybe you feel the same way about your own prayer life, wondering what it takes to be a “prayer warrior,” as some call it. Dallas Willard has some encouraging and helpful things to say to us. It’s maybe a bit of a long quote, but stick with it. I think it’ll be helpful. It might just be that being a “prayer warrior” (if you like that term) is not about length or depth or heights, but about simply starting to pray and doing so honestly and consistently.”

    While I do find that Willard can sometimes be convoluted, I thought his point here was quite clear. Curious to know what you found confusing…

  3. Toni

    I wonder if it’s partly a context thing: you’ve been reading through the book (I presume) and have had your thoughts carefully guided and shaped, so the OOCP was already explained and neatly framed by that thinking. This also makes me wonder if the reason posted quotes pretty much never work for me is that my thinking hasn’t been directed by the author. Certainly when I’ve read books and had a ‘wow that sounds good – I must share it’ moment, when I’ve gone back later, the quote seems very much less impressive in the cold light on day.


    If I read through, slowly and carefully, taking time to pick through the words, assign connections, mentally flow-chart the logic, it begins to make sense. It’s not full of complex logic, just the sheer verbosity of the thing – the volume of words that, after a bit, just becomes a blur and a wash, blocking delivery of meaning. He’s not the only author to do this by any means, and I’m working through a book right now by another American author that suffers from using 50 words where 10 might do.

    I could start picking apart the section quoted, but that’s probably not helpful. Shall we leave this here?

  4. Marc

    You might be right about the quote, Toni. Difficult for me to say, as I had worked through the previous 240 pages of the book. The truth is, I often find Willard’s prose to be difficult, so that might just be it. The odd thing is that I thought this passage was particularly clear in comparison to other parts (which is why I haven’t quoted from the book before this).

    I’m curious, though, what you think of the quote, assuming you’ve deciphered it.

  5. Andrew

    I dig that last line you quote. I’m not much of pray-er, and the image of a “prayer warrior” frankly sounds frightening, but I appreciate and try to remember that prayer starts from a place of recognition of my finite, limited spot in the universe, and from there recognizes a co-operative effort in creation and reconciliation.

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  7. Toni

    Well, I didn’t really want to get into this any further, but feel I should at least come back a bit.

    ““Prayer, like all of the practices into which Jesus leads by word and example, will be self-validating to all who will simply pray as he says [that is, the Lord’s Prayer] and not give up.”

    At face value, that seems to be saying “if we say TLP every day then we’ll be OK”. I’d like to think he doesn’t mean that we should repeat a meaningless pattern of words, which is what happens when you repeat by rote without understanding, in order to develop a prayer life. He might have said (and possibly does elsewhere in the book) we can see a patern in TLP that can be useful for us in prayer, of recognising who God is and our relationship with Him, how great He is, how He rules over all etc etc. But this doesn’t say that. Maybe TLP isn’t used as a way to validate ‘our service’ as Christian as it is in the UK? And in any case, which gospel version are we going to use and do we have to say the religious bits the church added on later?

    Not give up? Heroism? 😉

    The more I read through the less I remember my initially critical reaction – which may be a good thing. And strange as this may sound, I don’t actually want to pull another man’s work to bits. There’s lots of helpful stuff in there, but you have to dig for the nuggets of gold in a mire of mythering. Why not give the useful stuff to someone directly (except your manuscript might not make a good book)?


    You don’t need to emulate other people in prayer
    Pray like you’re talking with your Father
    Pray for the things God has put on your heart.

    Narrative is useful to join the points together into a coherent read, but when the narrative takes over then the points get lost. I appreciate some will prefer a good narrative over the value of content.

    On this topic, I am reminded of a conversation Chris was involved in about a vicar who was briefly responsible for the church at Somerton. One of the ladies was concerned that he didn’t always read the prayers from the book, and actually made up what he said when he prayed. It makes me wonder how they might read and understand that quote?

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