By Ward Shope
“How’s your prayer life?” It’s one of those questions I don’t know what to do with. You can’t say, “Great!” That’s the sort of spiritual non-starter that disrespects someone bold enough to ask the question. It’s not likely true anyway. Most of us feel the pang of guilt about all the things we should be praying about while barely shooting an abbreviated prayer to God about our next personal urgent concern.
There are times when my prayer life has been vibrant (not “great”). I sense the deep two-way interaction with God as I sit quietly before him and offer my heart. It isn’t easy to explain, but the relationship moves to levels that are rare in any encounter, and there’s an eagerness for the next time to pick up where you left off. Sometimes, through the Spirit, things become incredibly clear as we sense deep freedom in our conversation with him.
Then there are the times when I’m struggling just thinking about what to pray for. I resort to mental lists of things I should be praying for, but the effort is burdensome and I feel like I’m simply reciting words without heart. Fortunately, the Lord may not experience this exactly the same way. He is more gracious and patient with his children than most parents are who are enthralled by the babbling of their toddler.
So how do I move beyond this? I recommend highly Paul Miller’s book The Praying Life as a great aid in breaking the cycle. Besides that, here are some things that help me.
I need intentional time. I tend to be a task-driven person – and we’ve all met that sort of person who is so concerned about their agenda that you never connect. A real relationship with the Lord requires time like any other relationship. I need to make sure I’m investing enough time and focus to actually converse.
I try to let reflecting on God’s Word move me to prayer. The Bible is God’s primary way of speaking to all of us. It helps us understand what is important to him so that we can talk with him about them. If I’m paying attention to what I’m reading, I’m probably going to have some response to it. This moves the relationship deeper.
I use prayers that others have written to help me get started. I keep a copy of “The Valley of Vision” close by. I’ve also used The Book of Common Prayer or Scotty Smith’s “Everyday Prayers”. These prayers remind me of the gospel and get me started. They can’t say everything for me, but they can help me get around to saying what I need to say.
I pray with others. When I pray with others, whether during morning worship or with a praying group, others say things for me that I can’t say for myself at the moment. We share the conversation, which makes us all the richer. We actually need to pray with others.
Of course, there are many other ways to help enliven our prayers. In any case, we have the assurance that the Spirit intercedes for us even when we don’t know what to pray.