I’ve been struggling these days on how to balance my life altogether and my walk with God is suffering from it. The less I pray, the further I stray away from him and the less I want to pray. Any tips on how to pray on a daily basis? How do you develop that fire to reach out to him every single day?
I wish I could tell you I’ve developed a Secret Eight-Step Plan to being a Super Prayer Warrior, but I know how hard this is. I’d also be a hypocrite if I told you I’m the best example of prayer, because this I’m not. All those surveys say even pastors spend an average of five minutes per week on prayer. I bet even those five minutes are sporadic and sputtery.
Every single Christian I’ve ever met always says, “I should be praying more.” I’ve never heard someone say, “I’m totally praying more than I need to.” It’s the same when you ask someone, “How’s your spiritual life?” A lot of us are really too hard on ourselves.
The opposite problem is that when people do pray, they sometimes think, “I just filled my quota” or “I feel good about myself now” — when they had zero intimacy with God Himself. Prayer is not a video-game energy meter that you fill up by mushrooms and first-aid kits. There’s no professor grading your prayer-life. Praying is your time to get totally honest with God and tell Him everything.
Let’s recognize: prayer is straight up tough. Most of us find it difficult to pray because 1) we have tons of shiny distractions, 2) we’re not accustomed to silence, 3) it’s human nature to forget aversive disciplined habits, 4) we all wonder if it actually does something, and 5) if spiritual religiosity is one more thing you add to your schedule, it’ll be the first thing to go when life gets busy.
What I’ve found is that at least several times per week, I’m able to pray very intensely after I prime the engine. In other words, there are some “failed prayers” that happen first in which my mind wanders down thought-chains into oblivion, but the next day I break through the barrier and it’s all smooth-sailing. Some days I can barely get it started, but it’s often the next day that I’m talking with God like He’s really there, talking to Him with all joy and passion and repentance.
Most of us get stuck in the priming part. We think when we “fail a prayer,” that we just suck. It’s uncomfortable, it’s disheartening: so we build an aversion to it, sort of like how some people don’t like to check their voicemail or call their mother. But if you can run through that initial sticky stocking, you’ll build a groove. And since we’re human, we can fall out of that groove sometimes, but that’s when you prime the pump again. God is very patient with us, if you know about that thing called the cross.
You can add all the regular good advice around prayer, like setting aside a regular time, praying no-matter-how-you-feel, writing down your requests, turning on music, and finding a dark corner somewhere — but also please remember that an accurate picture of God will go a long way to building intimacy with Him.
Theology helps here. If your picture of God is a stern disappointed uncle with a stungun, prayer will not be fun at all. I hope it’s more like the friend with all authority who you can bring to the schoolyard fights; like the father whose lap is always open, ready to embrace you. Pray like God can change something, because He can and He will.
If prayer by itself is a scheduled ritual, you’ll cast it aside when you need more room for your life. But the more you can understand your need for Christ and His fullness and your dependence on His provision, the more you’ll actually come to Him when life does get busy. Like we do with our older wiser friends, God will be the one you call when life happens.
Lastly: don’t ever, ever, ever think that you’ve been gone too long to come to Him. God is not some spiritual parole officer waiting for you to fail. If you’ve strayed from prayer, He is not keeping some score. If you don’t feel Him at all, tell Him that: “I don’t feel you right now, God.” Pray with any amount of faith that you have; believe that prayer works; ask for faith if you have none. If you’re mad, tell Him. If you’re ashamed, guilty, confused, afraid, doubtful: tell Him. He can handle that. He is understanding, patient, gracious; He loves you. You’ll soon find you’ll want to talk to Him, because He’s actually pretty awesome to talk to.