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Podcast Question: I have a question regarding the daily practice of prayer, hoping to gain a perspective from others. Ever since God saved me about ten years ago, I have had a deep conviction to pray. When I was a new convert, I asked others how they prayed and read books on the subject.
Unfortunately, a legalistic environment poorly nurtured my ideas about prayer for six years. It became an issue because if I missed my morning prayer time, I was depressed all day because I believed I lost God’s favor.
I would not have said that, but it is the way I lived. I still struggle with it today. Over the last few years, as I have begun to understand the gospel better, I have by God’s grace tried to remind myself that grace through faith leads to salvation.
Even in moments when I have not had the opportunity to pray as I ought, I have said something like “Lord, thank you that I am no less your son, though I’m rushing right now, I can have joy in believing, regardless of my prayer life.”
Though those things are real, my deep conviction to pray has never left, and a lot of time I find it hard (though I hate to say it) to fit prayer into my life.
At this season of my life, I feel swamped. My schedule makes it hard to pray consistently. If I let the day get away from me, it is hard to stop and spend quality time in prayer. Sometimes this routine can drag on, and I feel worse and worse.
I understand Jesus saves me. I know He is always with me. My relationship with the Lord is the greatest treasure of my life, and I am willing to change what I have to. I would love some help regarding my prayer life.
Prayer is every Christian’s dilemma and tension. Many Christians struggle to have a consistent and dynamic prayer life. It reminds me of athletes who do not stretch before they run. Most runners do not take the time to stretch. Running is the main thing; stretching is a mundane precursor to the main thing.
Engaging your day is the main thing; prayer can feel like a mundane warm-up, but if it is valued, it will make the race a more enjoyable experience. Though you know this, you may struggle to appreciate prayer enough to implement it into the fabric of your daily life.
I have given a lot of thought to your struggle with prayer because I have experienced it ever since the Lord regenerated me in 1984. Your struggle is my struggle. When I think about how to make my prayer life better, these eight things come to mind. I hope they will help you.
The first thing I recommend you do is to move the word “prayer” to the back of your vocabulary list–at least for now, and replace it with the word “talk” or talking to the Lord. The Lord is a person, not an object. I think sometimes we think about the Lord the way other religions bow to their objects and idols.
Bowing and talking to an object is like talking to a signpost. It is an impersonal unidirectional communication that is not warm or reciprocated. Prayer can connote that kind of attitude for some individuals: God is a distant deity rather than an immanent person, which can make prayer colder than ice, and chore-like rather than a lively conversation between two people.
Call to action: Stop right now and talk to the Lord. Say something to Him. Right now!
I recommend you use the word friend for how you think about the Lord. You can think about Him in many other ways, which you should, but what if you make the word friend common-speak when you think about Him?
Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. – James 2:23
Jesus wants us to think about Him as a friend (John 15:15). This idea will help soften the rigidness from your former legalistic presuppositions and worldview–the way you used to view Him.
The Lord is both transcendent and imminent. You hold Him in awe, power, majesty, and wonder, and He understands your most painful struggles and frustrating temptations. God is also near you.
Based on what you said about legalism, I imagine it’s more comfortable for you to think of Him in a courtroom rather than a living room. You want to reverse this, mainly when thinking about prayer.
Call to action – Do you experience the Lord more in the courtroom or the living room? Why did you answer the way you did?
You may not be married, but I am going to use a marriage analogy here. I think about the Lord–in the context of this chapter–the way I think about my wife. She is my friend, my best friend in life. I talk to her throughout the day, at different times during the day, and through various means: phone, text, verbal.
I think about her often because she is my friend. I have pictures of her on my desk and in my heart. This kind of ever-present awareness is how I engage the Lord. I do not phone or text Him of course, but I do engage Him throughout my day with short messages (prayers) or more protracted talks (prayers). You must make this your habit.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. – Romans 1:20
Call to action – Ask the Lord to change your talk plan to an unlimited plan.
If you have an unlimited talk plan with the Lord (which you do), don’t worry about using up your minutes: Talk to Him about everything, at any time, all the time. Isn’t this what you do with best friends? If you have an idea, share it with the Lord. You will never talk too much to God. Create that kind of talk habit.
Let Him become your best friend with whom you want to share all your thoughts. That means you are not just asking Him for things, but you are thanking Him for things. Tomorrow, as you go to work, survey your surroundings; thank Him for those things that He brings to your mind. Talk to Him. Ask Him questions. Say, “Thank you” for what you observe.
Call to action – After you finish this chapter, thank the Lord for what you read and share with Him a useful tidbit you took from the chapter.
There are times when my wife and I cannot find adequate downtime to talk. Even so, that does not alter our relationship. Last night we spoke from 11:30 PM to about 1:30 AM. We were talking about life, family, friends, and how to do life more effectively with others. It was a great conversation. It was satisfying and spontaneous.
We also have scheduled date times, which are analogous to dedicated times of prayer in a closet. Typically, we will go to a dinner or some other place. It is rarely about the place, but about being with each other. We are friends, who talk to each other at different times, in different ways, about different things.
The Lord is your friend, and you need to speak to Him in as many ways as you can create. Some of your time with Him will be structured, dedicated prayer times, but most of your talk times should be spontaneous. If you pray in a structured context for fifteen or twenty minutes, you will have fourteen to eighteen hours for random talking possibilities left to enjoy.
Call to action – Where is your structured place of prayer? If you do not have one, create one.
Legalism is the bane of praying. It will choke the life out of your prayers while filling you with doubt and frustration. Praying every day at the same time in the same place is not a bad idea, but it should not be a hill of legalism to die on because it is not possible to do. As much as I love my wife, I cannot maintain that kind of commitment to her.
Prayer is not a competition with yourself to be perfect. Prayer is only part of your relationship with the Lord, and if that relationship morphs to the point of legalistic conditionalism, your relationship will be a struggle.
If you can pray every morning at such a time, by all means, pray at that point. But do not let that time define your relationship with the Lord. If you miss it, do not think the Lord is displeased with you. That is not how a loving relationship is defined.
Call to action – If you pray and have a good day, did you have a good day because you prayed? What if you did not pray and had a bad day. Did you have a bad day because you did not pray? There are legalistic answers to my questions, and there are gospel-centered ones. What were your answers?
One of the ways I talk to my Friend is when I write. I write as though the Lord is at my elbow. I ask Him about the content I am creating. For example, I asked Him what I should say to you. I thanked Him when I finished for how He shaped my thoughts. That is just one way I can demonstrate my dependence on Him.
Think about how you can create opportunities to show your dependence on Him. Ask Him for help regarding all matters of life, big and small. Some of those times will be structured prayer moments, but most of them will happen in the milieu: the day-to-day contexts in which you live. “In the milieu” praying is what keeping in step with the Spirit means. Each step you take, your best Friend is at your side.
Call to action – What hinders you from being God-reliant over self-reliant? Whatever that thing is, ask the Lord to take it from you.
There are at least four kinds of prayers: Wow, Help, Thanks, and Please. Think through how you can implement all of them into your life.
“Wow, dear Lord, you are amazing.” Wow-type praying is when you are overwhelmed at the bigness, greatness, and all-powerfulness of the Lord. When the finite tries to wrap his brain around the Infinite, all he can do is prostrate himself on the ground in stunned amazement.
“Help me, dear Lord. I need you.” This type of praying gets at the heart of your needs. You are in that place again where you need help, and know the only person who can help is God Almighty, so you ask Him to impose Himself into your life and situation.
“Thanks, Lord. You are so kind to me.” Then there are gratitude prayers. This one should be rolling off your tongue every waking hour. There is never enough time in the day to thank the Lord for all you have experienced from Him through your five senses. Gratitude praying should be the most frequent praying you do.
“Please help my friend.” One of the highest honors you can bestow on a friend is to take their needs to the King of the universe. This kind of praying is Christlike, as it imitates the One who intercedes for you. Whether it is in structured or spontaneous moments, praying for others is a gracious gift to your friends and a sweet aroma before the Lord.
Call to action – How are you doing with these four types? How do you need to change?
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).