Do you ever feel guilty about your prayer life? I sure do! Does it seem inadequate in some ways? Mine did for much of my life. In my thirties, I embraced a teaching based on the Lord’s prayer which subtly suggested anything less than an hour a day in intercession might be considered chump change by heavenly standards. For years after that, I vacillated daily between feeling triumphant (and somewhat prideful) on the days I prayed for an hour and defeated on the days I didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong; 99.9 % of that particular teaching is rock solid theology and I use many of its principles to this day. The problem became my type A personality blended with that 1% of mild scolding about the length of my time with God. If someone sets a bar for me, I will turn myself inside out to get over it and repeatedly bang my forehead against it until I do. Sometimes a recovering perfectionist, overachiever’s spiritual life can be a bloody mess, honestly. I know, you laid- back types are probably just shaking your heads, sadly, but this is where many of us live. Stick with me, whatever your personality type. I think God’s teaching me some interesting stuff about prayer, useful for any personality or schedule.
God doesn’t make prayer hard. We do. God carried all the weight to restore the relationship between created and creator after Adam and Eve squirreled it up. Just as He walked and talked with them in the garden, He wants meaningful conversation with us that flows from intimate relationship with Him. To that end, He gives every believer the gift of the Holy Spirit who teaches us, through the Word, how a human can grow a relationship with a perfect God. He packed the Bible with tons of Scriptures which share specific guidelines for our God conversations. These aren’t designed to condemn us but to instruct us.
In any successful relationship, both people need to learn the other’s likes, dislikes, boundaries and the specific keys that open their hearts to one another. The same is true of God. The purpose of verses like Isaiah 59:2, “Your sins have separated you from God,” are to help us understand His preferences so that we can approach a conversation with Him easily, freely. Verses about prayer are intended to be lights on our path, not straitjackets that bind us.
My Dad and I live a couple hours apart and he still owns his own business. If I want to phone him and catch up, I need to respect his schedule and energy level. Calling him at 9 p.m. is thoughtless and useless as he will probably fall asleep during the conversation. I’ve learned this by listening and observing what he says and does. I respect his boundaries so he’s usually very pleased to hear from me and will spend an hour or more talking with me and sharing the things on his heart. Think of your prayer time with God like that and don’t turn guidelines into legalistic rules.
God wants to spend time with the real you, not a hopped up, more spiritual version of yourself. I recently read an interesting devotional by Rick Renner in “Sparkling Gems II,” in which he talks about Christ’s commentary for the seven churches in Revelation. To each church, Jesus says, “I know this that and the other about you,” basically. The Greek word for “know,” in these passages means “to see.” Revelation chapters 2 and 3 create a picture of Jesus standing in the midst of His church seeing all that is done and said, good and evil. Seeing it all, He still chooses to be with His church and takes the time to encourage, praise, correct and rebuke.
Jesus stands in the midst of your life and sees it all. He sees the times I snark at my husband because I’m overwhelmed and tired. He hears my negative attitudes. He also observes my faithfulness to my Tuesday prayer walker group and my willingness to sacrifice my time to make ornaments for a missionary Christmas tree. Seeing and hearing it all, He wants to be with the real me, in whatever state I am in.
Talk to God, not at Him. Conversation should be back and forth like a tennis match, not one sided, like a driving range at a golf course. My prayer times used to be me hitting as many balls towards God as I possibly could, hoping some of them hit heaven’s gates. Relationship-wise, that’s a monologue, not a conversation.
I much prefer the tennis match approach to prayer now. God I and warm up a bit together by me praising Him and then Him sending back some ideas on sinful attitudes and actions and should probably be confessed and forgiven before we continue. After that, I listen for Him to lead me in each of my subject areas. I am realistic now and understand I can’t pray everything for everybody every day.
God knows His agenda for each individual and organization for which you pray. He knows what is going to happen within each day for all of them. One day He leads me to pray for Ken’s health, the next for wisdom and financial increase. Today, He might ask me to pray for revival in my country, tomorrow it could be for safety and security.
The point is, prayer’s goal should be to line up our will and emotions with God’s agenda, not the other way around. I’ve added a couple of my favorite prayer tools and books to the book list because I’m not against teachings and books on prayer. I’m against turning the truth in them into boards with which we whack ourselves on the heads!
Take a fresh look at your prayer life. Ask God where He’d like to see some changes and adjustments. Don’t miss out any further on all the wonderful, quiet secrets He’s trying to share with you because you’re too busy driving balls! He’s searching for fit, ferocious people who can also be champion listeners.