Many of us view prayer the same way we do exercise. We know it’s good for us. It relieves stress, improves circulation, strengthens the heart, boosts energy levels, and improves physical appearance. Some claim that exercise even enhances one’s sex life!
But despite these valid and desirable benefits, many of us would rather keep lifting a fork to our mouths than lifting weights. Exercise is boring, painful, and just too much trouble after a hard day sitting on our spreading posteriors at the air-conditioned office!
Similarly, deep down in our spirits, we know that prayer is important—that it strengthens our relationship with God, relieves stress, boosts our faith, and is the source of unlimited spiritual power. But despite these benefits, many of us view prayer as boring, painful, and just too much trouble.
So how do we shake ourselves out of the doldrums and really begin to experience intimate fellowship with God in prayer? I’ll share with you some things I’ve learned about prayer.
Pray whenever you think about it.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can only pray at certain times and in certain places. Pray in your car, in a meeting, in bed when you can’t sleep, as you mow the lawn or wash dishes, or while brushing your teeth.
Learn this if you learn nothing else: because God makes His home in you (John 14:23; 1 Corinthians 6:19), wherever you are, God is there! So learn to converse with Him all the time.
I used to—and occasionally still do—fall into the trap of telling myself, “I’ll pray about that later.” While I’m mowing the lawn, I’ll think of someone I need to pray for, and I’ll mentally review the details of that person’s need and even rehearse what I plan to say later, during my “prayer time.” Then I catch myself and smile at how foolish it is for me to pray later about something I’m thinking about (and therefore, actually praying about) now!
If you sometimes find yourself kicking yourself for forgetting to pray for people you’ve promised to pray for, learn to pray when God puts the burden on your mind—when you think about them.
Pray about a variety of things.
Don’t pray about the same things all the time, and don’t try to cover everything in one prayer. Vary your conversation. Pray today about the work supervisor who’s giving you grief and save the missionaries for tomorrow.
Pray different kinds of prayers. Try praying a prayer of praise without asking for anything. Put away the prayer list and just spend time praising God for who He is in your life.
Or sing your prayer to God. Paul admonishes us to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). There are times when my family and I pray by singing favorite praise hymns such as “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “I Love You, Lord.”
During the prayers I sing, I sometimes experience the presence of God more profoundly than when I’m at my “regular” prayers.
Pray without words.
You don’t always have to have something to say in order to be with God. I know this may seem odd, but sometimes it’s perfectly all right “to be still, and know that [He is] God” (Psalm 46:10).
A while back I had a deeply moving prayer time with God without saying a word. It was one of those extremely rare times when both the house and my spirit were quiet. I couldn’t think of anything to read or anything to say. I sat in the stillness and just allowed my heart to be an open book to God. Later I noted the experience in my journal:
“The stillness of this morning feels good—like a warm blanket on a cold night. I seem unable—or unwilling— to think of a passage to read from the Bible. I’m not in a hurry to read anything. For now, the silence is enough. My thoughts and the quiet seem prayer enough this morning. ‘Be still [cease striving] and know that I am God,’ You’ve said. This is one of those rare moments when I’m content to sit still and know You. To connect with the King. Thank You for meeting me here this morning.”
So learn to “be still and know.” Quiet can be profound. And don’t feel like you’ve failed if you occasionally run out of words when you pray. Remember, there are times when “we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26, 27).
Pray on paper.
Prayer journaling is simply writing your prayer in the form of a letter to God. It’s also one of the best methods I know for dealing with a wandering mind. When I’m writing my thoughts to God, I find that my mind stays focused on what I’m writing. My eyes are open, and there’s something in my hand that keeps me alert. And I often hear God speaking back to me as I write in my journal. God addresses the very issue I’m writing about—not audibly but in my mind, through a Bible passage, a situation I remember, or a song.
Don’t worry about proper grammar or punctuation. Your journal is for God’s eyes only. It isn’t meant for publication in Signs of the Times®! Buy a simple spiral notebook, write the date on the top of the page, and begin to express yourself on paper.
Journaling is a powerful way to communicate with God—and, as a bonus, you’ll have a permanent record of your spiritual journey with Him. Years from now, you’ll look back at your prayer journal to see how God led you through times of struggle. This will give you the courage to face tomorrow’s challenges.
Pray for your spouse.
Don’t pray in a general, vague way but in specific terms, claiming particular Bible promises that are tailored to your spouse’s individual needs.
I like to do this for my wife, Suzette. Sometimes I’ll leave her a note containing the verse that I’m claiming for her. She saved one of these notes and kept it for a time on the bathroom mirror, where she could see it every day. It read:
“For you today: That your delight will be in the law of the Lord, that you will meditate on it day and night. That you will be like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in season without withering. And that whatever you do will prosper (Psalm 1:2, 3). Love ya.”
Search the Word for specific verses that fit your spouse’s situation and pray those verses back to God, inserting your husband’s or wife’s name in the appropriate place.
P.S. You can pray for your children the same way.
And singles, the lack of a spouse and children doesn’t mean the lack of other individuals who love you and need your prayers. Claim promises on behalf of your best friend, coworker, family member, or pastor, and let that person know that you are praying for him or her. Any relationship will be strengthened by this prayerful act of love.
So there you have it. Five suggestions for putting new passion into your personal prayer life with God. This isn’t an exhaustive list. You may already be experimenting with several creative forms of prayer that I haven’t even mentioned. Great. Go for it. Whatever you do, though, pray.
Don’t just read about prayer or agree that it’s important. Pray.
Be real. Be consistent. Be creative. But above all, pray.
There’s so much in store for you if you pray!