It all changes when prayer stops being something you know you should do, and starts being something you want to do.
Prayer is air.
- We can get stifled, stuck
- Our enthusiasm succumbs to sloth
- We get too tired to think
- Our motivations blur as we try to cajole God into doing what we want with fancy words we barely understand
- We don’t see immediate results and become skeptical.
Once in a while I need a prayer tune-up. If you do too, this is for you.
Prayer is not peripheral to life. Nor is it limited to times in church or a quick pre-dinner thank-you. For it’s power to be manifest in your life, it needs to be a priority.
1. Choose to prioritize
Make the decision that prayer is more important than something you’re already doing.
Every day we prioritize what’s important. Getting gas in the car is more important than getting somewhere on time. Food for the fridge is more important than the latest episode of Downton Abbey (marginally). So prioritize prayer and work it into your day.
Something’s gotta give or else you’ll be out of gas or hungry and won’t know why.
“Prayer is not preparation for the work, it is the work.” (Oswald Chambers) It took me time to realize how true this was, but now I see it. Prayer isn’t an extra; it’s the meat and potatoes.
2. Anticipate an answer
We’ve all heard that actions speak louder than words. Sometimes. But prayer isn’t “just” words.
Prayer is conversation with the God who acts (and answers). Mind you, this doesn’t mean that God will always answer how you want. Teresa of Avila (who knew as much about prayer as Einstein did about physics) once prayed, “Do not punish me by granting that which I wish or ask.” She knew well that God’s perspective is more comprehensive than our own.
I love how a thinker named Karl Barth put it: God “is not deaf, he listens and, moreover, he acts. He does not act in the same way whether we pray or not. Prayer has an influence on the action, on the very existence, of God.” You may want to read that again.
Do you take that seriously when you pray?
Plus, the more we do it, the more we find ourselves changed too. Wider and deeper and higher into God’s love.
3. Use a focus tool
If you try closing your eyes and walking across a field with the hope of touching a specific target, you’ll often be disappointed. Without a plan, you wander off course.
It’s normal. It happens. And there are many ways to focus your prayer life with different kinds of prayers.
But I want to give a suggestion you maybe haven’t heard of before.
Use the Bible as a guide.
Quite literally. Something that’s been very helpful to me is going through the Psalms. Choose some psalms (maybe 86, 103, 131, 61—to name a few), and read one verse at a time, and then pray in response to how God has directed your mind based on that one verse. Then read the next verse, and pray again. Repeat to the end of the psalm.
Or try the same process with Ephesians 1: 3-23 or 1 John 4: 7-21.
It might just blow your mind and be the most significant enhancement to your prayer life this year.
4. Would a partner help?
If you need a kick-start maybe you’ve started spinning in your own head. Find a trusted friend to pray with. Not only does keep you accountable and on track, but it draws you away from just praying for yourself all the time, and toward others and the needs of the world.
An awareness of the needs of others draws you upward.
Maybe your someone to pray with is a spouse. (Marriages are infinitely strengthened when partners pray together.) Or maybe it’s another.
If you can’t get together, be in touch with topics and commit to pray for the other with consistency. Someone is depending on you.
Wrapping It Up
No matter where you’re at, you need to internalize the revelation that prayer is a powerful and personal channel for God’s action.
Don’t worry about fancy words (God will know you’re faking it—remember, he made you). Know that you’re praying to the One who knows you better than you know yourself.
I leave this blog with a word from Walt Disney that sounds strikingly current:
“In these days of world tensions, when the faith of [people] is being tested as never before, I am personally thankful that my parents taught me at a very early age to have a strong personal belief and reliance in the power of prayer.”