My prayer life is a mess. I repeatedly resolve to be better, more diligent at praying, but then it comes time for the sacred supplication and things go scattering about wildly. I’ll begin praying about the health of my wife, and the next thing I know I’m thinking about the Ebola situation. So I’ll pray about that for a moment or three, but it has me thinking about disease in general, and that gets me to thinking about AMC’s The Walking Dead, and what is next for Rick and the gang in their battle to survive. And thus ends another unsuccessful prayer session.
And I know it isn’t about being “good” at it—that the Holy Spirit intercedes for me even when I don’t know what to pray. But I also know that discipline cannot grow amid chaos. I have a chaotic mind. Appointments, conversations, TV shows, books, all come fluttering to my mind and hijacking time that is meant to join my will to God’s. I need to improve, not so I’m “good at it” but so it becomes an unshakable part of my daily life.
Here are a few things I am trying out. Maybe they’ll help you on your own conversations with God . . .
1) Maintain eye contact
This is a basic communication skill that allows one to stay engaged. Of course, this is harder to do with God—can’t exactly look Him round in the eye, can I? But what I can do is eliminate distraction. Yes, prayer should just happen throughout my day, but it should also be a part of a focused routine too. It is the latter time which I am addressing. And in that time, it is helpful if I turn off Sportscenter, put Spotify on mute, if I bar out some of the common hindrances. I find darkness helps for this too, I cannot look around and see a bug on the wall that needs my immediate attention, or whatever other menial thing that can pry me from God. I like to have these moments in my bedroom before sleep comes. My wife will be in the other room, so I turn on the bathroom fan, and it makes a low rumble that creates a buffer between me and other noises. And there in the stillness of the dark, I can pray without much outward interference.
2) Speak up
This isn’t for everyone, surely, but I’ve heard of the wonderful effect praying aloud has for many. One guy I know takes five-minute showers and talks to God throughout the whole thing. The car is a decent opportunity for this, as well (prayers, not showers!). The benefit of it is in the purposefulness it takes to actually articulate words. The humorist Stephen Leacock is famous for penning the line, “Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.” That is my mind—it rides madly off in all directions, but my mouth causes that mind’s focus to become more singular. It is a governor of sorts for the motor of the mind. It takes very little focus to think, but to speak takes a fair bit more.
3) Take notes
I’m meeting with a boss in a few minutes. I’ll go in, sit down, and prepare pen and paper for whatever may come. If he says “write this down” and then begins to list his grocery needs, I will dutifully take it all down with rigid tidiness and stalwart attentiveness. The reason: he’s a big deal! He matters! He, in a manner of speaking, supplies provision for my family through paying me. He, in a sense, is a lifeline for us, so I pay close attention to all he says. How much more so is God my provider? How much more is He my lifeline, and out of that importance, it seems sensible to heed what He says, what He does, how He works. Keeping a prayer journal can do just that for me. It can show me what God is doing and what He’s done, and it can remind me of the fruits of relationship that come from prayer. On days when things are stale, all I need to do is flip pages back to see the beautiful blessing of prayer and the record of interaction between God and me. And much like speaking, writing prayers can be a wonderful way of connecting without easy distraction.
When I speak with someone, I try to make things make sense—it is just a little social courtesy I do. Seldom do I think, You know, I’m just gonna conversationally wing this and see if they can piece it all together. With prayer it is no different. I can limit chasing every red herring, every mental impulse, if I stick with some sort of plan. The ACTS plan is a good one (in which one prays through that acronym: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Another winning strategy is to pray in ripples. Just as a pebble lands in water and the circles ripple out, wider and wider, so too can I pray. I begin with myself—for if I don’t have God’s Spirit at work with in me, what good am I to any of the larger circles? Without God working in me, my impact on the world is punchless. So I begin with me, then I pray for my wife. Then my family and hers. Then our friends and coworkers and church family. You can see the circles widening. They will then drift out to the community I live in, and the ones I have loved and left. Then I will pray through broader concerns: for the gospel to go throughout the nation and the world, for God’s hand in global arenas, and so on. This isn’t a perfect method, but it is one that keeps me on track, and, when I happen to drift and wander, it is easy to rejoin where I left out.
Okay, so there are many and more we could list, but I hope this will suffice for now, and that maybe you might try something even today that has you seeking to connect with the Living God.