The other day, someone told me that I have an awesome prayer life. I had no clue how to respond to that, because I don’t think my prayer life is that awesome. I know how far short I fall of ‘pray without ceasing’. I know how often I avoid talking to Father God, because I’m afraid of what He’ll say. (Which is hogwash! He never says what I feared He would. He always speaks to me lovingly and encouragingly. This is one of the things He and I are working on getting me free from. Thank God!!!)
So, how did I get to this place – where others think I have a great prayer life, even if I don’t think so, and how could they get to where I am (and hopefully farther)?
First off, a definition: prayer is talking to God. That simple, and that hard. The simple part is talking. Believing He hears you is harder. And shutting up and really hearing what He has to say in reply is harder yet.
But Jesus promised (remember? He’s God and He can’t lie!) that his sheep hear His voice (John 10). So step one is to believe that He hears you.
Step two might be to read Psalms. David is said to be ‘a man after God’s own heart’, and he sure expressed his emotions to God in these songs he wrote. So expressing all your emotions to God seems to be a good thing. Trust me, He knows what you’re thinking and feeling anyway, and it’s not gonna knock Him off the throne. So give Him the respect of being honest with Him.
Step three No, no more steps. Talking to our God does not work by a formula. When you make a new friend, do you follow a formula? No, you follow each other down conversational paths that lead you to know and understand each other better. That’s prayer.
You can start your conversation with Father God by using traditional forms or prayers, but don’t force it to stay there. ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is a wonderful way to start, but stop and listen in between phrases. He might have something to say back. As you learn to know His voice well, He might even give you certain people or things to pray for. Example: “give us this day our daily bread” might turn into a conversation about the needs of a friend, family member, or yourself. Or even someone you don’t know, but saw at the gas station. Real conversation is like that – it wanders.
Which brings up an issue lots of people struggle with – distractions. I was taught as a child to pray following a certain form, and to pray for a certain amount of time each day (morning and night). This was torture for me. So much so, that for years and years, I made no attempt to spend time with Him on a daily basis. No matter how hard I tried, I could not bring my mind to focus on God, so I gave up trying.
Then, one day, He showed me how to handle all the mental interruptions – share them with Him. (Duh!) By talking with Him about them, I allowed them to be important (and He often showed me solutions), but then they could be put aside while I talked with Him about His subjects. That’s how you talk to your friends, isn’t it? You each get to share what is on your mind or heart at the time.
This brings up a major point – the purpose of prayer. I don’t believe you can develop a great prayer life if prayer stays about you. (It’s natural for it to start that way, though.) If it’s all about what you want, what you feel, what you think God should do or give you, then it’s only half a conversation. Unlike us humans, who will walk away from a friend who monopolizes all the conversations, God never deserts His children. But can your relationship with Him develop very much, if you monopolize all your conversations with Him?
The real purpose of prayer, in my opinion, is not to give God a list of my demands/requests. It’s not to tell Him how I think He should run the world. It’s not to whine about how hard my life is. Those can all be part of prayer, though. Look at Psalms again. But if David starts with whining, he doesn’t end with it. Obviously, God’s reply changed David’s attitude.
The purpose of prayer is getting to know Father God, His Son Jesus Christ, and our Comforter and Teacher Holy Spirit. It’s a big part of learning to live in Him, to abide in the Vine. Jesus said in John 17:3 that eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ. Sharing your hearts with each other, in lots of long conversations about what matters most to each of you, is the best way to get to know someone. This will naturally include emotions, both ours and God’s, and beliefs and ideas, and random nonsense.
Don’t be afraid to laugh with Him! Cry with Him! Rant to Him! He can handle it all. But listen, too, as He shares His thoughts and feelings. It’s an amazing ride!
May you learn to hear His voice more clearly, as you allow Him more input into your conversations with Him. And may you get to know Him so well that it is said of you that you are a person after God’s own heart.
“ . . . there needed neither art nor science for going to GOD, but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him, or for His sake, and to love Him only.” From The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence
P.S. I was going to write a blog post about whether prayer is a discipline or a lifestyle, but it’s really a lifestyle, which can be developed through discipline. Just be careful not to let the discipline stifle the lifestyle! It’s only a foundation. So . . . there’s the whole post in a nutshell.