When you stop to think about it, it can be overwhelming how awesome it is that we have the ability to talk to our Creator and Savior whenever we want. We have perpetual access to the wisest, most powerful Being in the universe.
But on a day-to-day basis, what does that mean? How does that work? If I genuinely desire to grow closer to God, why do I struggle with prayer? These questions recently prompted me to do a self-diagnostic test about my own prayer life that I’d like to share with you.
Question 1: Do I Desire to Pray?
This one is a little tricky, because we all know that we make time to do the things we truly want to do. I’ve struggled with this knowledge in the past because, while I know that prayer is important, I don’t always make the time for it. Many of the times I do pray, I become distracted by inconsequential things.
I’m such a multi-tasker that I often try to talk to God while I’m doing something mundane like washing the dishes or driving. Then, I get distracted. After adding dish soap, gloves, and toothpaste to my mental shopping list, I’ll realize that before I started thinking about our lack of dish soap, I was talking to God about…something.
I constantly allow things as silly as my to-do list, my book, or my television to become small idols in my life that I desire more than prayer. While this is wrong, I do reach a point where I realize this, confess it, and take the time to pray to my Savior.
What does that tell me? While I am imperfect, the desire to pray is still present in my heart. That means I have a solid foundation upon which to build my prayer life. Why? Because God laid that foundation by placing within me a desire to know Him and please Him when He saved me.
Question 2: Do I Purposefully Act on that Desire?
Ouch. Question one was painful because it exposes patterns of practical idolatry and self-indulgence that hamper my prayer life, but this one makes me realize where my struggle with consistent prayer comes from.
It might seem like a silly question, but do you pray on purpose? Not before you eat, or while you’re driving because you have nothing else to do and talking to God seems like a good thing to do. Those prayers are great, but do you have a purposeful prayer time?
Even during my Bible reading time, my prayer is often quick and surface-level. “Thank you, Lord, for this truth in your Word. Help me to apply it to my life today.” Something along those lines. But often I don’t take time out of my day to sit down and purposefully communicate with God.
My husband doesn’t appreciate a lack of attention when I have a conversation with him. If my mind is busy brainstorming a shopping list or analyzing a character arc from a book I just finished, my conversation with my husband really doesn’t count. I’m not present. I’m not there in the moment, so I’m not actually communicating.
Prayer works the same way. If we aren’t purposefully setting aside time along with mental and emotional focus, we aren’t praying. We’re just saying empty words.
Question 3: Do I Understand the Purpose of my Prayers?
The Lord’s prayer in Scripture begins with praise for God’s name, recognizes God’s will as the most important thing, petitions God for the supply of daily needs, and petitions God for forgiveness, help in forgiving others, and protection from temptation, before ending with more praise.
If we only pray when we’re in need of something, we’re treating God more like a good luck charm than a sovereign Savior.
Question 4: Am I Committed to Learning to Pray?
While prayer comes from a heart of love and worship for God, we don’t have to wait around for a mystical experience to transform us into devoted prayer warriors. Like anything else in our spiritual lives, prayer begins with a foundation of God-given desire, but that foundation is put there for us to build upon.
Prayer can be learned as an intentional habit.
If God has given you the desire to grow your prayer life, you still have to purposefully choose to pray. That might seem pretty basic, but like any other habit, you have to choose to develop it. Everyone develops habits differently, but to successfully build a habit, you have to be purposeful, consistent, and disciplined.
You may desire to run a marathon (I don’t know why, but you may), but if you don’t purposefully set aside consistent time to train and discipline yourself to follow through with your schedule, you’ll never make it to the finish line.
If you’re a child of God, you aren’t training on your own. You have an internal Personal Trainer for spiritual fitness continually prompting you to run faster towards Christ. But to attain a consistent, relationship-deepening, heart-healing prayer life, you have to personally sacrifice the time, focus, and energy required.
Question 5: Am I Enjoying the Process of Prayer?
While prayer is a habit that needs to be cultivated, we have an indwelling Helper and Teacher to guide us. We don’t have to wait for a future race and finish line to enjoy the product of our “labor,” because once we actually commit time to prayer, the sweet blessings are instantaneous.
Like everything else, our prayer lives are a continual process that we won’t ever perfect, but the journey closer to God is the continually rewarding spiritual treasure hunt of the Christian life. May we be able to say with the Psalmist:
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, So panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: When shall I come and appear before God?” Psalms 42:1-2
This new edition of A Praying Life includes an expanded chapter on using the practical “prayer cards”―a hallmark of the teaching found in A Praying Life―and a chapter on the need and use of prayers of lament.
“This book will be like having the breath of God at your back. Let it lift you to new hope.” ―Dan B. Allender, PhD, author of Bold Love
Prayer is one of the most precious aspects of the Christian life. So, what do you think of when you think of prayer?
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