Prayer is one of the foundational activities followers of Jesus do. It’s right up there with Bible reading, worship and meeting together. We all know prayer is important. It’s how we connect with God. It’s how we invite him to be part of our daily life. I think it’s strange that so many followers of Jesus find prayer a struggle. You are not alone if you find prayer hard. I do too. There are times when praying is easy, and times when it is hard. Sometimes it feels like God isn’t listening, and others when his presence and embrace are so close. I asked a few Jesus followers, who have been ministering to others for a number of years, to share their experience of prayer and get their wisdom on developing a habit of prayer. Here’s what they said…
From your personal experience, what words would you give to fellow Jesus followers who are struggling to develop a habit of prayer?
It has become increasingly difficult for me to distinguish prayer as a spiritual discipline from all the others. The longer I journey in the spiritual life, the more I experience all of life as prayer and the other disciplines as different ways of praying. Solitude and silence help me experience the more contemplative elements of prayer. Lectio divina is a way of praying the Scripture. Self-examination is the prayer in which I invite God to search me and reveal those things I need to know about myself. Discernment is the listening part of prayer: sitting with a question or decision in God’s presence and waiting for the wisdom of God that is given as pure gift.
Any approach to the spiritual life that sets up false or awkward distinctions between prayer and life, or prayer and the other disciplines, seems to unnaturally rip apart elements of life that belong together or to unnecessarily complicate something that is in its essence quite simple. And so it happens that all of life becomes prayer. From prayers that are more formal and structured to those that are informal and spontaneous, from prayer with words to prayer that is beyond words, from the most intimate expressions of love expressed privately to God to words spoken in unison by God’s people when they gather, from the eloquent written prayers of the church to the breath prayer that is nothing more than a gasp of need or a sigh of love or a groan of longing, from the prayers uttered in beautiful cathedrals to prayers offered on the side of a mountain—every breath we take can be a prayer, uniting our heart to God and harnessing the energy of our life to his great purposes.
May we ever be mere beginners in the life of prayer, always crying out, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Ruth Haley Barton is the founder of the Transforming Center. She is a leading voice in Christian spirituality and formation. In addition to her prolific writing, Ruth is also a sought after speaker. Ruth’s blog can be found here.
A few years ago I tried an experiment: I decided to read the Sermon on the Mount in whole or in part every day for a month. The experiment continued a second month and a third, and shaped me significantly. Each week I journalled my discoveries from that experiment which later became a devotional book and DVD course. And one of the biggest lessons learned? The simplicity and power of the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer tool.
The first thing that struck me afresh about the Lord’s Prayer was its breadth. It covers the essentials of the Christian life succinctly. It covers the nature of God (‘Our Father…”), our mission in life (“May your kingdom come…”), our material needs (“Give us today our daily bread…”), our relational needs (“forgive us as we forgive those who…”), even spiritual warfare (“deliver us from evil”). I’ve learned to pray the Prayer slowly and attentively most days now, stopping at each line and inviting the Holy Spirit to guide me further into each area. Am I pursuing my kingdom over God’s? What are my real needs right now? The Prayer can be prayed for others too, inserting their name into each line (“May your kingdom come into David’s life… Give Julie her daily bread…”).
So this would be my encouragement to those struggling to develop a habit of prayer: pray the greatest Prayer the world has ever heard each day and let it carry you where God wants you to go.
Sheridan Voysey is a author, speaker and broadcaster. His latest book is Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life. His free ebook Five Practices for a Resilient Life includes a chapter on praying the Lord’s Prayer.
I think most of us struggle to pray as much as we’d like. One of the most helpful things I’ve read comes from Paul Miller, author of The Praying Life. He talks about managing life through prayer. This means that prayer isn’t an additional thing we do, but the way we manage what we already do: our jobs, marriages, finances, relationships, and more. This keeps me praying. I need to manage my life anyway. Why not do it through prayer?
There are a couple of really interesting things I’ve observed with Christians globally around the whole subject of prayer that I’d like to touch on:
1. It is a two way thing – it’s about having a relationship with the one we say we follow. To me, that makes it more of a conversation rather than rattling off a list of requests as many prayers seem to be. It also has to involve listening, meditating, immersing yourself in what it is that He is communicating with you
2. Your own expectations around prayer, whether they are heard, or answered, will shape your practice of prayer. If you have an expectation that prayers will not really be heard, or they are rarely answered, then you’ll behave consistent with that expectation; that is, you stop praying, or you do it randomly and out of obligation or in corporate prayer in church. If you have an expectation that your prayers are heard, that they are part and parcel of having a relationship with Him, then you’ll be comfortable having a regular time of prayer, and you’re probably more likely to pray randomly throughout your day as well
3. The content of prayer is something to be considered. Further to my first point, if prayer is all about you, your issues, your desires, the things you want God to do for you, I don’t believe that is helpful, nor sustainable, if you are attempting to develop a habit and practice of prayer. To what extent are you asking for ‘things’, for the easy way out, for clarity rather than asking for guidance, acceptance, peace in the midst of turmoil?
4. There is a fine balance between becoming too structured, and becoming too random. There is something to be said for the ‘daily office’, regular prayer times set throughout the day, where your alarm goes off and you stop and commit whatever you are doing in that moment; but if it becomes a ‘religious practice’, and there is no heart in it, I’m not convinced that is helpful.
Vanessa Hall is the founder of the Entente International Movement of Trust. She is passionate about bringing a greater awareness of the power and fragile nature of trust. In addition to her books for adults and children, Vanessa regularly blogs at www.thetruthabouttrust.com.
• Prayer is a wonderful mystery and an enormous privilege, to talk with an everlistening, almighty God.
• It is so simple, a child or disabled person can pray powerfully, and it is deep enough to keep the Theologians in long discussions.
• When you don’t feel like praying it is a very important time to pray.
• God chooses to work through our prayers, even though he could do everything sovereignly.
• God loves us to be honest with him and to confide in him, even though he already knows everything.
• There is no one who is always available, who deeply listens and has the power to help perfectly, by knowing all including the future and everything about you.
• Praise and worship breaks, magnify God and shrinks your depressing concerns.
• Prayer helps us align with God’s perspective – the real reality, not our distorted depressive reality.
• Persevere in prayer. Don’t rely on your feelings, because God is listening and loves you more than we can comprehend and wants your best despite how many dark clouds are in the way.
• Where else can we turn? Who else has words of life and loves us enough to die for us?
• God will only be silent for our own good and only for a short deepening season.
Keith Ward is a regular reader of the blog. He is an integral part of the steering group for The Simple Church Network of the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT. Keith has also been involved in pastoring and church planting. His wrestles with burnout and depression provide wisdom and an example of God’s faithfulness.
¹ Ruth Haley Barton’s comment has been taken from Sacred Rhythms with Ruth’s permission.