Praying Creatively When Words Aren't Enough

A while back, a friend interviewed me for her blog on creativity and the arts. My book Creative Prayer had just come out, and I had been exploring different ways to express prayer and wondering why we always seem to associate them with words. At the time, I didn’t have a blog to put the interview on. Now I do. So …

LeAnne Benfield Martin: In Creative Prayer, you write that many of us have an unbalanced relationship with God when it comes to how we communicate with Him. What do you mean by that?CP

Chris: If we think about all the ways God has communicated with us, and then compare that to the ways we communicate with him, it looks pretty lopsided. Not that we can ever match his style, of course, but we can certainly do more than just talk to him at a set time each day. I look at it like a couple in love, where the guy expresses himself every way he knows how—music, poetry, meals, flowers, dances, etc.—and the girl just leaves a message on his voicemail every once in a while. That’s the kind of imbalance I see in our relationship with God, and I think we’re missing out on a lot.

LM: You mention that the purpose of your book is to discuss creative expression to God. What is creative prayer?

CT: Creative prayer is praying with our whole being—using all the gifts God has given us to express ourselves. We can draw or paint our prayers, act them out, dance them, sing them, dress to match the mood of our petitions, and much, much more. The possibilities are limitless. We see some very tangible communication with God in the Bible: sights, smells, sounds, movements, etc., through the sacrificial system, the psalms, the lives of the prophets, and in Jesus’ ministry. God’s language seems to be primarily visual, but it covers the whole range of our senses and beyond. That’s an invitation to speak back to Him in a variety of creative ways.

We come into the kingdom through a very narrow gate—Jesus alone—but once inside the gate, the pasture is enormous. God encourages us to get outside the box in our communication with him. We’re never to violate His character or his will, but the means of communication in Scripture is never formulized or even specified. There’s shouting, dancing, instruments, sackcloth, incense, blood, bread, weeping, rejoicing, and on and on. God made us individually for a reason: to express ourselves individually.

LM: You write in Creative Prayer that sometimes words are not needed when we pray. Explain what you mean by artistic prayer and give us some examples of how we can pray this way.

CT: A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So why do we fumble around with a thousand words when we pray? There’s nothing wrong with verbalizing our requests, of course, but why stop there? I think sometimes we tend to explain to God every detail of our prayers, when really we could say, “Lord, you see this picture in my mind? That’s my prayer.” And it’s even better to draw it, write it, sing it, dance it, act it out, or whatever. When we do that, we won’t be able to pray detached prayers, and we’re not likely to forget them the next day. The more senses are involved, the more engaged we are with God and the more we’ll remember our prayers and his answers.

Some people are reluctant to do this because they don’t think they’re creative or talented, so they think their prayers will be insufficient. But the truth is that our words are also insufficient. Paul made that clear (Romans 8:26). Our creative prayers are like a three-year-old bringing mommy a drawing, and she can’t even make out what it is. Does she reject the art? No, she sees the heart behind it and she loves it. I think that’s how it is with God.

LM: What are some ways we can communicate more creatively with God through our senses and circumstances?

CT: Again, the sky’s the limit. (Actually, not even the sky is a limit.) But for a few starters, here are some suggestions:

• Write your mistakes/sins/trials/obstacles in the sand and watch the waves wash them away, asking God to give you a fresh start.

• Eat an ethnic dish to tangibly identify with a certain nation, as though it’s becoming part of you. (You are what you eat, right?) Then pray for that country not as an outsider but as its representative.

• With whatever instrument you have, play a melody that reflects your current situation. Then play one that reflects what the situation would look like if God intervened. That tune, along with its transition, becomes your prayer.

• Draw a picture of your heart and write all your ugliest attitudes on it. Then erase them and ask God to do the same. Or better yet, throw the whole drawing in your fireplace and ask God to refine and purify you with the flame of his Spirit.

• Act out one of your prayers. You may look like a bad mime, but that’s okay. God won’t mind at all—he’ll love it.

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©2013-present by chris tiegreen