Prayer is a strange and wonderful thing. It takes practice, and I’m still learning how it works—and I imagine it will be a life-long lesson.
I’ve been keeping a daily prayer journal for a year and five months now, and I’ve learned a lot about prayer by doing that. I’ve also learn a lot about myself.
Here are four things I’ve found that commonly sidetrack us from an effective, authentic prayer life:
Focusing on Me and My Problems
It is so easy to get caught up in our own little world, and even easier for our prayers reflect that. Prayer can become just repetitive pleas for God’s hand to make sure every detail of our life is safe and comfortable and looking successful. But the world is a lot bigger than our problems. Yes, God cares about you—every bit of you. He cares about your relationships and your decisions and how you use your time.
But there are millions of people in the world who need prayer too. You may be the only one in their life who is praying for them. There is great power in praying for people you know—co-workers, friends, family. There is also great need for prayer warriors praying for people they have never met and may never see—refugees, missionaries, government officials, random strangers on the street. You might be the only praying Christian to ever cross their path.
Don’t let your prayers be only all about you. They should be all about God.
Prayer ties your soul to the soul of another with the strands of eternity. It can be a powerful, if unnoticed, ministry. You may never get an award for “Best Prayer Warrior of the Year.” You won’t get a gold star at the end of the day. But you will get to watch the stars realign. You will get to see the hand of the Creator move. And you will come to know the heart of the Father like never before.
Worrying if My Prayers are Worthy
No prayer is dumb. God listens to you whether you’re praying for your finger to get better or to get an A on your test or the sun to come out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big prayer or a little prayer or a “selfish” prayer. You can pray for people you’ve never met. You can pray for celebrities. You can pray for the trash man. You can pray for good weather. Prayer is simply talking to God—as a friend. Too often we forget that God actually likes us.
What I mean is this: friends talk about everything. If my best friend and I only ever had deep theological or philosophical conversations pondering the fundamental questions of our existence, we probably wouldn’t be best friends very long. We talk about deep things, but we also talk about movies and cute actors and our favorite books and Anthropologie and art. We talk about silly things, little things and the big important things. Why? Because I trust her implicitly. And when you trust God, this shows in your prayers.
God is big enough for your little requests. He is big enough for your “dumb” prayers.
He simply wants to talk with you. Never negate the power of your prayers simply because you feel like they aren’t worded correctly or don’t flow well or aren’t always about the big issues in the world. God loves you—not because you are eloquent or compassionate or dedicated or good with words, but because you are His.
Never be afraid to pray. About anything. About everything.
Never Taking Time to Listen
Don’t we all hate those people who can never stop talking about themselves? Every story, every joke always relates back to them. They have to be the center of the conversation or there is no conversation. They never pause to listen.
But don’t we all become that person in prayer? I know I do. I have a list of people and things and problems to pray for, but I hardly ever take a moment to listen and hear what God is saying.
Granted, He doesn’t often speak audibly to people, but I do believe He gives us thoughts, impressions, memories that are from Him. The core of relationships is communication, and at least half of that communication should be listening. The same holds true in prayer.
Making My Prayer Life an Idol
If I make a decision, I’m going to stick to it. If I write something on my to-do list, it’s going to get done. So, if I decide to pray every day, then come hell or high water, I’m going to pray every day. And that isn’t a bad thing. Dedication is good. But not if you idolize it.
I have found the habit of prayer is truly a weapon. It can protect you, but it can also be dangerous. Since I write my prayers down, it is easy for me to fall in love with the words on the page more than the One I’m writing them to. I like the way my pen feels in my hand and finding ways to string my thoughts together until they are beautiful.
Never let the habit of prayer outweigh the holiness of prayer.
Prayer was never meant to be simply another thing checked off of your list or a way for you to seem like a better Christian or a way for you to suck up to God. (He doesn’t fall for it anyway.) So let yourself mix up your routine. If you usually write down your prayers, try speaking them. If you usually pray while you’re driving, try praying on your knees. Let creativity and passion flow into your prayers.
There is unfathomable power in prayer. A praying Christian is a dangerous Christian.