‘I think most of us struggle to pray as much as we’d like.’ This was part of Darryl Dash’s response to last week’s question around prayer. I think he’s right on the money. I know I should pray more but, honestly, I forget. My memory is bad at the best of times. I’m the kind of person who needs ‘eat lunch’ included on a to do list. Going shopping without a list always ends in disaster. But, really, I can’t blame my poor memory when it comes to my struggle with prayer.
There’s something about prayer that’s uniquely difficult. Mary DeMuth writes about how prayer centres on relationship with God. Shelly Miller likens prayer to marriage. And Nathan Foster speaks of prayer as falling in love. It would be weird, not to mention awkward, if I was having diner with my wife, or coffee with a friend, and ‘forgot’ to have a conversation. No, there’s something uniquely difficult about prayer.
One of the reasons many people struggle to pray as much as they wish is because prayer is somehow ‘other worldly.’ I don’t mean this in a spiritual sense but physical. It’s easy to have a conversation with a friend sitting on the couch next to you. You see them, hear them, smell them. You may feel the couch move as they change position. The same is true on the phone. You hear them. The action of holding the phone up to your ear is a physical cue a conversation is happening.
Prayer doesn’t have these physical cues. You may sense God’s presence but this is not guaranteed. Sometimes I sense God is near; other times I don’t. And when I do, it’s like gazing through fog – there but not quite in focus. Because prayer lacks this concreteness, I use phrases like ‘I forgot’ but in reality, it’s more like I’m not even aware of God’s presence.
If you can relate to this struggle, here’s 5 prayer tools that may help.
1. Keep it Regular
Kellogg’s All-Bran promises to keep me regular. Being regular is important. Now, being regular with prayer has nothing to do All-Bran, but if the problem is struggling to pray as much as we’d like, maybe regularity is worth a shot. It doesn’t have to be complex. The guest speaker’s alarm went off during the main session of a church planting conference I attended last year. He stopped mid point and explained that in Matt. 9:38 Jesus tells his followers to pray for workers, and so, at 9:38 every morning he stops and prays for those he knows on mission and asking God for more workers.
2. Create a Place
Holding a phone is a physical cue of a conversation. You can create a similar thing with location. If being in a certain chair in the garden pulls you into God’s presence, then go for it. Does a particular piece of music invite you to pray? If holding a carved wooden cross helps you to converse with the one of whom the cross speaks, then let your fingers run over its rough knottiness.
3. Use a Journal
A journal can be a great prayer tool. Many people record things they’ve been praying for. Later, they can turn back through the journal’s pages and see how God has been at work. What a great thing to do. So often God acts on our prayers in small ways. We can miss these if we’re looking for God to do other things. What a source of encouragement it is to reflect on the fact that God does hear and act.
I don’t have this self-discipline. When I journal, my pen scrawls across the page leaving in its wake a flurry of ideas I’m wrestling with. This helps me work through my thoughts, my challenges, joys, fears and doubts. But it’s also the source of my prayer. It guides me to God.
So, journalling can be a helpful tool for prayer in 2 ways; respectively, as you record what you’ve been praying; or proactively, as an inspiration for your prayers.
4. Prayer Cards
We’ve had ‘Paddle Pop Prayers’ at different times at my church. Everyone’s name is written on a paddle pop stick, put in a cup and as you pull out a stick, you pray for that person. It continues through the week. The cup sits on our table and every meal one of our kids pulls out a name. I was so encouraged when I saw a cup full of paddle pop sticks sitting on a shelf at a friend’s house when I was there for a birthday party. This idea is so simple but can also be adapted. You could use small index cards with a person’s name and a couple of points and sit them on your desk at work.
I personally don’t use prayer apps. I tried as I was preparing for this post but they just aren’t my cup of tea. That said, I wanted to include them because many find them a helpful tool. The 2 I tried were PrayerMate and Abide. These are both very popular apps. Give them a go. They may be just what you needed.
Finally, what Rachel Jones wrote about prayer last week was so good I wanted to share it again.
I’ve found two things particularly helpful. First, pray Scripture. Prayer is less about changing God’s priorities and more about changing mine, and modelling our prayers around God’s word helps us to pray in line with his will. So read a passage of the Bible and think, “What is it that God wants to do for me? How does he want the world/his people to be? What has he already promised to do?” Then just ask him to do it! Second, pray out loud. This really helps me to keep my mind from wandering off. Some of my best prayer times are when I have the self-discipline to switch off the car radio and just start talking to my Father in heaven!