“It’s like talking to myself.” “It’s easier to speak than listen.” “Prayer is often a fair-weather friend.”
These are just some of the ways my church small group described their prayer lives.
Prayer is vital—no one denies that. But prayer is difficult and often presents an uncomfortable tension in the lives of many Christians. For a generation grappling with the distractions and attention-span challenges of an increasingly digital culture, how can we recover this important part of our relationship with God?
Like anything else we can’t get to in a day, many Christians feel guilty that prayer is not more a part of their spiritual lives. But the good news is that prayer is not an item that can be ticked off on a to-do list. And there is freedom in recognizing this.
Because prayer is an act of relationship, it should be an open and ongoing dialogue. First Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray continuously.” God may not be physically with us when we pray, but He is present with us, and prayer becomes our connection to Him. Whether we’re crying out in desperation or spontaneously asking for His favor, prayer is how we converse with God. It can be casual conversation or intense, emotion-filled petitioning. It can be done on our knees or in the car, shower, elevator or check-out line.
The trouble is, many people find it isn’t that simple. To wake up in the morning and say, “Today I will be in permanent conversation with God” is one thing. To do it is another.
A flourishing prayer life comes not out of dedication to rules and regulations—although structure may help—but from the overflow of a heart totally and fully in love with God. Human relationships thrive when both parties communicate with each other as motivated by love, and prayer requires the same foundation. If we are not overflowing with God’s love, our prayer lives will reflect that.
The flipside is that to be overflowing with God’s love, we need to be spending time with Him in prayer.
Cultivating a healthy prayer life might seem like one of those well-intended New Year’s resolutions that quickly fades out. But it doesn’t have to be that hard. Here’s a few ways to rethink prayer and put back into practice our daily conversations with God.
Recognize from the start that prayer is difficult.
Talking to God should be simple, right? He is our Father, one who cares for us and longs to hear from us. But prayer is hard. Jesus gave us a prayer to use as a guide in the Lord’s Prayer. He recognized that sometimes we won’t know what to say. He acknowledged prayer would be difficult. Like any relationship, there will be times when communication is good and times when it isn’t. The key is to keep going and push through the tough times.
Just do it.
There are times when praying is the last thing you want to do. Nothing is further from your mind than lifting up a prayer. But relationships require not only love and sacrifice, but gritty determination and perseverance. If your prayer life feels dry, keep praying. But don’t pretend. Tell God you are there, and be ready to listen to Him. Be expectant. Sometimes simply showing up is half the battle.
Recognize the importance of structure.
While there is the risk of regular prayer patterns becoming repetitive and boring, it can also create peace and order in sticking with a routine. Setting aside the same time every day to pray can help to establish a pattern in your life—and prompt you to pray throughout your day as well. For centuries, monks have followed structured prayer patterns for this very reason. The constant reminder of God in their day focuses their minds on God and ingrains the posture of prayer as a daily habit.
Try different things.
Structure is good, but on the other hand, nothing will starve your prayer life quicker than monotony. The two must be balanced together. The same thing, day in and day out, can become boring quickly. Try different ways of praying. Ways you’ve never thought of before. Take a walk, paint a picture, write a poem, read the Scriptures. Communicate with God throughout all these activities. Tell Him what you are doing and why you are doing it. Be creative and see what happens.
Ask God for help.
Perhaps the simplest way to pursue a life of prayer is by asking God to help. If we can’t even communicate with God to ask for help in this area of our relationship with Him, how much are we going to struggle in other areas? Romans 8:26 tells us that when we do not know what to pray for, the Spirit “intercedes for us through wordless groans.” When we don’t know what to say to God, the Spirit helps us. Because God knows.
Ultimately, while the above suggestions may be helpful, there is no quick, five-step solution to improving your prayer life. For most Christians, it is something they find to be a lifelong struggle, one that ebbs and flows as the waters of life rise and fall. But it’s a struggle that, in the end, brings us closer to God.
When you believe that God truly longs to hear from you, you can pray without pressure. Know that the Spirit is ready to intercede for you when you don’t have the words. Above all, be honest with God. Tell Him your pains, your joys, your concerns, your fears. Bring them to God, leave them at the foot of the cross and enjoy His presence.