Prayer has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember. It is not that I don’t know what to say; if anything, I talk too much when I pray. The struggle has always been keeping my focus on what I am doing. And as I have grown older, I have come to a place where I desire more from my prayer life than what I saw modeled in my home church.
The good thing about having to work hard at something is that you learn a little more about how it works. You learn the “tricks” that not only help you master the skill but that can also help your fellow strugglers do the same. Below, I share a few things I have learned over the course of my life about prayer. They aren’t profound, and they may not work for everyone. But they have helped me.
The first suggestion comes from the teaching and example of Jesus. He taught his followers to find an inner room and close the door (Matthew 6:6), but his own practice was finding a secluded place in the countryside to pray (Luke 5:16).
The former has been more beneficial for me. It allows me to shut out the world and focus on God. It is as if this (primarily symbolic) act helps me shut out the clamor in my own mind.
Others, however, will find Jesus’ practice more helpful. They need the beauty of nature—the sights, sounds, and smells of the living world—to prompt them to worship. They need to be overrun by the beauty of creation to connect with a beautiful Creator.
However we do it, our goal is to lay aside the many demands of our frenetic lives to commune with the God of peace. It is to slow down long enough to hear God’s voice, to experience His gentle instruction as His Spirit works within us to reorder our priorities and heal the broken places within our souls.
Do you pay attention to your posture when you pray? It is something that I have begun to do over the last few months. When I have serious business to do with God—when I just need to worship Him or tell Him something that is really bothering me—I sit up straight. But when I need to confess my sinfulness or simply rest in His presence, I prostrate myself before him. Praying in private gives me the freedom to assume these bodily positions without any fear of what others will think, and I have found that paying attention to my posture helps me focus on the task at hand.
On a related note, I have also begun to pay more attention to how I breathe. In particular, I endeavor to slow and deepen my breaths when trying to rest in God’s presence or hear His voice. This practice forces me to slow down, to stop trying to shape my time with God around my schedule. It gives God’s Spirit the room He needs to work at His own pace and with His purposes.
Praying With The Whole Self
What I have shared so far is not my own invention. Writers across the Christian landscape have spoken about the importance of solitude and posture. These things are important because when we pray at our best, we pray with the whole self.
For twenty-first-century evangelicals, it can be just as challenging to pray with our hearts as it is with our bodies. Some of us have been so misshapen by anti-emotional prejudice that we no longer know how to relate to others or God with our hearts. We struggle to experience true intimacy—to know and be known as God intended.
If this describes you, I encourage you to do what I have done. Commit yourself to be as honest with God in prayer as you know how. Don’t just tell God what you think; don’t just tell God what you believe He wants to hear. Tell God how you feel. He is safe—not because you can control Him and He won’t hold you accountable, but because He will never abuse you. God will never use your self-disclosures against you; instead, God will use those moments of honesty as an opportunity to love you and to make you more like Himself.
A Closing Admonition
Perhaps we should close our discussion of prayer with a warning and an encouragement. As you put these and other ideas about prayer into practice, you will find yourself more open to the Spirit of God. That is a good thing. But sometimes, the dysfunction of your mind, or even the Enemy, will try to subvert (or even distort) your efforts to connect with your Father in heaven. Your mind (or the Enemy) will masquerade as God and tell you untrue or wholesome things. If you think this might be happening to you, please seek the help of a Christian mental health professional or spiritual director. A well-trained professional can help you distinguish the voice of God from those trying to sabotage your prayer life.