How To Improve Your Prayer Life
I’m going to start this post with a little update: I’m starting a new online teaching job this Monday! It will be for a few hours in the mornings, making my schedule just a little bit busier and working on these posts (which would usually happen in the morning) just a little bit harder. However, I’m committed to doing this every Monday thing, so though my posts may be shorter, they’re still happening! All the same, as I’m adjusting to my new schedule, I’ll be keeping this one snappy but hopefully just as useful.
My prayer life has been pretty horrible for a long time. I mentioned in past (more recent) posts, that God really convicted me of this during my struggle with my back issues. I genuinely believe He is doing this because I can’t go out onto the mission field with my five-minute morning blurb. That’s baby stuff, and Nate and I are going into spiritually dark regions of Romania where Satan has a strong hold on many people and where I think only a deep and fervent prayer life can help you survive. Not only that, but God has helped me understand that to be missionally effective every single day of your life, you need to be rooted in prayer and upholding others in prayer. There is simply no other way of being in tune with the Spirit’s guidance and align your heart with Christ’s heart.
There’s so much I have to say on why prayer is important, and I hope to do that in the future, but the purpose of this post is to explain the HOW. You see, I’m definitely at the point where I believe prayer is necessary and vital. That makes me more motivated to pray, but doesn’t make it any easier when I’m on my knees staring at the blank wall in front of me and feeling like my mind is pretty darn blank, too.
Prayer doesn’t come easily. I feel uncomfortable, awkward, wonder if God is listening, and don’t know where to start. Should it be formal, more conversational? What do I focus on? Because the more I think, the more things I can think of to pray for, and I certainly can’t spend hours and hours doing this. What do I pick? And oh, how my mind wanders.
I believe that if you truly desire something, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Or you’ll ask God to. So if we believe prayer is truly indispensable, these excuses may be legitimate, but not enough. I’ve tried praying despite all of the discomfort, and it’s been pretty rough. But as I’ve brought my struggle with prayer to God, He has slowly been revealing to me how to pray. I want to share two key things I’ve learned, and I’ll share more as I learn more.
First of all, effective prayer requires 100% focus. That’s something almost impossible to do these days. I say these days, because the constant exposure to technology in our day and age has literally rewired our brains (read The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains by Nicholas Carr for an insightful analysis of this). We are so used to flashing images, quickly scrolling feeds and “stories,” action-packed story-telling, that our brains are incredibly jumpy and even for those of us who initially grew up without much technology -- our attention span is shot. I personally find that I almost can’t focus completely on anything. And yet, effective prayer and worship of God requires 100% focus.
To combat this, I’m taking steps to rewire my brain. I practice social media/phone fasts to give my brain a chance to slow down, use the quiet, white space to rewire, and get me off that constant drive to ingest media. I’m also practicing mindfulness -- not in a mystical meditative sort of way -- but literally I am taking moments in the morning where I try to quiet my mind and focus completely on one thing. During sermons at church, I track how often my brain jumps from the message to something else (it’s fascinating how often this happens and how often the thing it jumps to is somehow linked to me, myself, comparing myself to others, wondering what others think of me -- I challenge you to try it sometime!). And in those moments when it does, reigning it back in. I’m trying to reteach my brain to focus, and focus 100% on one single thing and then taking that skill to prayer.
When we approach God, we owe Him 100% focus. If we had a real understanding of Who He is and if we had the opportunity to physically see even a glimmer of His glory, we would instinctively be 100% focused. When we give this focus to Him in prayer, not only is He honored, but our hearts are then truly open to speaking to Him and communing with Him. Amazing things happen.
The second thing that God has taught me falls within the question of what to pray about. I don’t even remember where I heard someone say this, but it stuck with me and gave me a springboard for how I approach God. It went something along the lines of “Whatever you don’t like that you see around you, bring it to God in prayer.” It was probably so eye-opening to me because I can be very critical about the things around me. I have very high standards for myself, others, and what I’m wanting from life, and often, things and people fall short. I’m often disappointed and angry. I fall into gossip about how bad this or that person is acting, bitterness towards people that I see aren’t pursuing God as they should, anger at myself for failing in areas I had wished to succeed, anger at God that situations aren't’ turning out as I had hoped, anxiety about current situations or future plans, etc, etc, etc. These are all sinful reactions to perceived sin. Of course I’m not going to like a lot about this fallen world. Of course, all around me, people won’t be doing well spiritually, and this will inevitable cause me hurt as they sin against me, disappointment as they sin against God, anxiety over their state or reason to gossip about them. Of course there will be oodles of things I don’t like about my sinful self.
The righteous reaction is prayer. If something is particularly bothering you about someone, God is probably putting it on your heart to pray for them rather than be angry, bitter, anxious, or gossip about them. If a situation is getting you down, that’s prayer fodder right there. We can take actions to right ourselves, other people, or things around us, but truly the only effective solution is to pray first. God may lead us to take action, but our first line of defense, our first way of changing everything negative we see around us, is prayer.
That is, of course, assuming we care to change things. I’m mentioning this because we can fall into passivity and just accept the falleness around us. We can lower those high standards, which may seem like an easy out, but does not fit with the calling of a Christian to be co-workers with Christ. We’re not co-workers if we throw in the towel, after all.
I hope these thoughts encourage you to pray and give you light as to how to do it more effectively. I want to leave you with the stunning truth that there are people and circumstances that directly depend on your prayer life. You are a unique individual, a unique part of the body of Christ, and without you, the whole body cannot function properly. If you’re not praying, we’re missing a key section of “life stuff” and people that should be prayed for, that only you notice, that only stand out to YOU. And if that doesn’t move us to compassion and active praying, let’s remember, the first victim of a prayer-less life is, after all, myself.
Carpe Diem Christos (Seize the day for Christ).
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