5 Simple Ways To Defrost Your Prayer Life
Prayer is not one thing only, it's the many forms we choose to open up the communication lines with the Maker.
Last week I was invited to join LifeFM for their mid year day of prayer. People from all over the country emailed, messaged and texted in prayer requests for a whole range of issues from depression through to staffing and using less of their phone. Throughout the conversation of the day it became apparent that a lot of people just don't know what prayer is or how to appropriate it in their lives. This is tragic to me because it shows just how little we've helped people in the most important aspect of their spiritual walk.
I'm sure there are a million ways to define prayer, but for me it's this simple: prayer is conversation.
Another way of saying it is that prayer is not and one single form in the same way that conversation isn't. Classically, we can have a conversation with a friend verbally face to face, through sign or body language. But today we can also have a conversation with them over a landline where we're tied to a particular location or on a cell when our reception is subject to satellite availability. We can talk while we drive (in some countries) or while we're cooking in our own kitchen. Also, additionally to traditional forms of non-verbal communication we can now also have a conversation via text, email or messenger.
All to say, when it comes to conversation, the form is far less important than the human connection it supports. That's how I see prayer.
Prayer is the connection we make with our Father, through his Spirit, in any and every aspect of our lives. The form is not the point, connection is.
So with that in mind, I wanted to share five ways that may help you start that connection in a new way in whatever stage of your journey with God you may be in. Personally, prayer has looked different for me in every stage of my life. It's not that there are better methods or the right or wrong ones, but that as we change we need to mature the way we share and listen with God too. When my wife Katie and I first started seeing each other we went out a lot. Now, 10 years later we're happy to sit most nights with a glass of wine and a candle at home and share our lives with one another. Sometimes we don't even need to talk. Our communication styles and connection have matured as we have and our walk with God is much the same.
These five little kick starters are just little springboards for exploring new ways of knowing God. As I've practiced each one of these personally they have opened up entirely new aspects of God's nature and presence to me and although at different seasons I've tended to adopt one for some time before moving to the other, these days I tend to employ them all in a kind of weekly rhythm. Think of it like doing leg days, upper body days and cardio days at the gym. Each is hitting on a specific aspect of your body and though you may focus on each seperately throughout the week they help to grow a healthy, balanced body. After enough practice we can even build a cycle of each into our daily rhythm of prayer if it's helpful to us.
So, without further ado, here we go.
1. say hello
One of the simplest way's to start a healthy prayer life just to say hello to God as often as you can remember. This is a great place to start if you find keeping a prayerful posture throughout your day tough. For years the way I learn't to find God in my every moment was just to say "hello" as I was driving, sitting, walking, getting lunch or engaging in something mundane. Nothing more, just "hello, Father". Without pressuring yourself to say or think anymore you may just find your awareness and enjoyment of the Spirit starts to filter into your minute to minutes.
2. Be Quiet
One of the great ancient practices in the Christian tradition (and in many others of course) is silence and stillness. I learn't this one through 3 years of chronic illness and it has become one of the key ways that I experience the grace of God today. In set times of silence before God we're acknowledging that we live in his grace, that he knows what we need and that his presence is more important than our agenda. It also helps the deep feelings we've been avoiding rise to the surface and gives us the opportunity to acknowledge them in the Spirit and ask him to heal them. It's in silence that we're confronted by ourselves and it's in this same silence we can find the tenderness of Father in a whole new way. If prayer is conversation then sometimes shutting up is exactly what the doctor prescribes.
3. Pray With Others
Jesus said that "where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them" (Matthew 18:20). There is a special grace in praying with others. It builds connection, community and empathy in one another and it welcomes God's presence with a unique kind of grace. Having a regular time of praying together - even if it's just lighting a candle and sitting in communal silence for 15 minutes - is a great way of creating ritual and habit in your life. As I've committed to praying with others every week I've experienced a lift in prayer in other areas of my life. It's also helped me to learn prayer from others. Recently a new friend prayed with incredible specificity in her prayer and it's inspired me to do the same in my own times. Praying with others engages the spiritual gifts too which encourage us and can impart the mystery of God's grace to us in new ways. We need each other, and if all you did was pray with others for a season then you're doing great!
4. Ask Questions
It took me years to realise that the deep feelings of grief, frustration or anger I would occasionally feel were actually the Spirit praying within me. We're told "the Spirit intercedes for us with groans beyond understanding" and He lives within us. Sometimes we can find ourselves in a heavy place around a friend or during a season and never think to ask God what it's about. As I began inquiring about why I felt this way I started realising I was being invited into beautiful and powerful prayer times. Once after meeting someone at a funeral and finding out they had been trying for years without success to have children, I felt a deep grief for three days and prayed heavy prayers for them. I hardly knew them but I really wept and prayed for them. A few days later the feeling left me as suddenly as it came and three months on they announced the pregnancy of their first child. If I hadn't begun a practice of divine curiosity in my life I would have missed what Jesus was inviting me into in that moment.
Take moments throughout your day to notice what you're feeling, especially if it seems out of the blue. You don't need to even give your own words to the groans of the Spirit within but just acknowledge them and participate in them. As time goes by you may begin to find giving those senses expression will become more and more clear.
5. Pray The Psalms
Finally, if prayer is still daunting and stagnant for you and you don't know where to start or what to say, pray the Psalms. The Psalms are Spirit inspired prayers based in real life grit and history. They're the community of God and man exploring the human condition and making sense of pain, suffering, joy, victory, failure, depression, hope and loss. When I've been in my most spiritually dry and lost times I've found sitting in bed in the morning and praying through a Psalm like it's my own was the only way to let out of my soul what I couldn't articulate myself. This is particularly helpful if like me you've walked a long journey through depression or anxiety. A helpful trick with the Psalms is to find out what day of the year it is and read the Psalm that matches. For example if it's the 70th day of the year you pray through the 70th Psalm.
I hope that's helpful for you. I'm totally aware there are many more beautiful and traditional ways to pray but I'm hoping to show you that if conversation and communion with God is the most important thing then maybe the forms of prayer we think less of are actually the rockstars of the day.
How disappointed would you be if someone you loved never spoke to you anymore because they felt guilty they didn't use the right language or just couldn't figure out what to say? Wouldn't you want to just be with the one you love rather than fixate on whether they're getting it right or not?
You were made to commune with God and he's far more interested in being with you than how clever or ritualistic you are about the way you do it.