I can remember my mother teaching me to pray the Lord’s prayer – I was probably about 5 years old. She taught me the words, but I’m not sure she taught me what prayer is, what it does, or what it’s for.

I’ve been a Christian now for 40 years … and I’m still asking, ‘Father, teach me to pray.’ When I’m alone, I find prayer hard – though I love praying with others. I could write about denominational practices of prayer, and compare how Baptists/Brethren learn to pray with their own words, out loud and together; while Anglicans depend on the written word in public and are generally reluctant to pray aloud. I could write about all the books I’ve read about prayer, and perhaps recommend a few. I could share some examples of prayer from history, testimony or the Bible. Although I quite often feel something of a failure in the practice of prayer, there’s still a lot I could say about prayer … that is, the theory of prayer.

However, I’d like to share with you a recent experience of prayer that was new to me, and that is currently shaping almost all my prayers, alone and with others.

I was praying for an unborn baby, to be born into what I can only describe as a ‘dysfunctional family’. I was praying while my hands were occupied with something else, so I was still, and couldn’t respond to the usual distractions. As I began to pray, these words came into my mind … from Galatians 5,

 v22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control

The words are familiar to me … and I have prayed them before, that I might myself grow in the fruit of the Spirit, and for others to do so too. But how do they apply to a newborn?

So I found myself praying that this little one would experience them from those around her. That her tumultuous family might love her with all their energy, rather than living for themselves; would rejoice over her, even when she’s crying during the night; would be patient when she doesn’t stop crying and they don’t know what else to do. I pondered what it means to be kind, and prayed that she will know kindness from her family and all those she meets – easy while she’s a tiny baby, not so easy as she grows up. And what is goodness? I settled on it as having a ‘moral compass’ … knowing instinctively the right thing to do and wanting to do it for the sake of others (knowing and wanting are not at all the same thing). Faithfulness means carrying on through thick and thin … as she grows, into toddlerhood, and childhood and adolescence. And for gentleness … from a fairly rough, selfish, impatient family, and their friends and contacts. And finally, for self-control … so easy to snap and lash out when lacking sleep from night feeds, or as she grows and shows some independence or resistance.

It was simply a different perspective, but I learned so much from it, even as I prayed for this little one who was at that time yet to be born.

The words stayed with  me, long after my time and my task were finished. And I found myself praying them again and again, for different people in different situations. In particular, that someone who was upset about change at church might experience the fruit of the Spirit from the church family so that their experience might be transformed. And I’ve been praying especially for joy … not for myself, but for those around me to know joy in their faith, that their faith will be a delight, not a duty, that instead of seeing a job to be done, they might rejoice that the job needs doing at all.

I have often prayed that people might show the fruit of the Spirit, but I’ve never before prayed that they may be shown the fruit by others … and I am loving it!

It may be presumptuous to share in this way – but I want to hold on to this season of prayer for as long as possible; and as I’ve mentioned it to one or two others, and as I’ve prayed like this with others, it seems to be something that is both needed and appreciated. Certainly, I was grateful to be given the words at just the right time. Father, keep on teaching me to pray!