Recently I ran into a friend I’d not seen in months. We smiled, clasped hands, and progressed with the typical salutations of a chance meeting. When I exclaimed that I had been thinking about her so much lately and praying for her, she grew suddenly serious. “Well, that’s no coincidence.”
Um, okay. I kind of brushed it off. “So, how have you been?”
She went on to thank me profusely for listening to the Holy Spirit. She’s had a really rough summer and was so grateful to know that, even though we hadn’t spoken in a while, I was still faithful in praying for her.
Oh, boy. It’s not that I hadn’t prayed for her. I had! But had I truly been faithful in praying? Had I been prayerful enough?
Years ago, what seems like a lifetime ago, I lived in a Bosnian village called Gorazde. The house held our landlord’s family (Bosnians who spoke also spoke French), two Korean missionaries (only one of whom spoke English fluently) and me (armed with American English and a handful of very random phrases in about eight different languages; important things like “I’m tired of looking for a man” and “Elvis is alive.”). Even though language proved a formidable barrier, the Koreans and I met every morning for a time of spiritual reflection and prayer.
Frequently during those times the one who spoke English would share how prayer was so easy for her. She loved that she never really talked to God; she would just feel Him. She thought things and He would understand her and carry those thoughts to His heart.
Now I know that God perceives our thoughts even before we think them. But is that really prayer? Is that what it means to walk with God? I don’t think so.
In college I had a very active prayer life. I never said “Amen.”
You know those homeless people who march down the street chattering away to people you can’t see? That was kind of like me and God. I tried to keep the chatter as an inner monologue, but can’t promise I didn’t look a little crazy from time to time. The point is that God and I were tight. I would engage in a conversation with friends, then walk away continuing the conversation with God.
I loved it.
I miss it.
The title of this post misleads. Prayer is not a quantitative thing. It’s not a goal to complete. Rather, it’s a striving. 1 Thessalonians encourages us to “pray without ceasing.” We won’t wake up one day and check it off our list of accomplishments. It’s something that’s never finished, something we can always do more.
And shouldn’t we want to? I mean, we, as believers, have direct access to the King of kings, the Creator of all things. Life is really hard. Why would we ignore that access? Why would we brush it off as unimportant or a chore? We should be running to Him, eagerly pleading the case for all that concerns us, all that breaks our hearts and all that fights against Him and His truth.
But it’s not always that easy. Sometimes we feel stuck in a dry desert with nothing to say and not a clue of how to start.
How do we return to Him once we’re stuck in a rut?
Here’s what NOT to do:
- Compare ourselves to others — Prayer is a conversation within a relationship. It’s not a competition.
- Set a timer — Yes, we want to pray more, but adding pressure or providing a finishing bell won’t help.
- Believe that the less you pray, the less you’re saved … or vice versa. Prayer lives are not indicative of salvation. They are a barometer of our current intimacy with God, but not of our eternal security. You cannot lose your salvation simply because you haven’t prayed “enough.”
- Insist on the perfect time and environment. If you wait for the sun to shine, the house to be clean and quiet, all your daily tasks to be completed and facebook to be less distracting, you will never pray. You must make it a priority, in spite of all the shiny things that tempt you to procrastinate.
Here’s are some ideas to try:
- Start a prayer journal. The simple act of writing (or typing) can clear pathways to communication. My mother has boxes of notebooks filled with her prayers. She struggles to pray publicly, but give her a pen and spiral-bound pack of paper and she’ll go for hours.
- Keep a list of prayer requests and answers. Ironically, I am a terrible journaler. I know, I know … I have this blog and I write all the time, but I can’t journal, especially my prayers. Lists work better for me. I jot down in bullet form the names of people or the situations that need prayer. Then I simply go through the list. When God answers, I write down how He answered and the date. Reviewing His faithfulness can be tremendously encouraging during times of trial.
- Make an appointment. Intentionally step away from life and all it’s distractions. Be still. Force yourself to breathe in the Breath of Life and just talk to Him.
- Study prayers in Scripture. The Psalms are fantastic for this. How did David (and others) pray? Were they reserved in their emotions or requests? Were they humble and honest? Or did they put on fancy vocabulary when talking with God?
- Pray Scripture. If you honestly don’t know what to say or where to start, start with prayers already written for us!
- Read about prayer. Philip Yancey’s book is still my favorite on the topic, but I would also recommend titles by Charles Stanley, Stormie Omartian and Kay Arthur.
- Listen to worship music. Chris Tomlin, Tenth Avenue North, Big Daddy Weave … these are just a few excellent choices for getting into a prayerful attitude. Don’t forget old hymns either! The lyrics to some of those classics can rock your world.
Your Turn: How do you foster a prayerful life?