Making Prayer Harder Than It Really Is

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I don’t know anyone who thinks they’re praying as much as they should.

When the preacher tells us to pray more, we really want to.  It’s a constant, itchy, burdening debt.  Days, weeks, months go by with a handful of failed attempts — and each prayer feels like we’re apologizing. 

I’m sorry I haven’t prayed in so long.  I’m sorry it’s not longer than a few minutes.  I’m sorry it’s not “deeper.” 

Prayer is hard though, if you ever really tried it.

I mean in the first five minutes, you start thinking of other stuff.  A lot.  Did I leave the stove on?  Should I send that email first?  Should I do some sit-ups after?  Did I respond to that text?  It feels like we’re running through an iron stocking, with all these distractions and interruptions and runaway thought-trains.

Then there’s the doubting.  We don’t know if it’s working.  Or if God is listening.  Or if we’re doing it right.  Or if we’re too dirty to pray.  Or if I even need to, since God does what He wants anyway.

 

There’s all these spiritually incriminating moments that make me want to give up.

I have probably said, “I’ll pray for you” a billion times, and then just forgot half the time. 

I always feel so motivated to pray at church in a big boomy atmosphere with more mature people — but then I feel that guilt accusing myself of convenient hypocrisy. 

Whenever I pray before a meal, it reminds me how little I pray elsewhere. 

When I pray out loud for a group, I’m often grasping for the right words, modifying my own voice to fit the crowd, self-consciously picking Christianese phrases like “bring God the glory” and “rain down mercy” and “holy fire fill us.”  I don’t know what these mean, to tell you the truth.

 

Can we just admit it then? 

That prayer is really, really hard?  And that we’re not motivated to pray by beating ourselves up into a prayer-debt?  And that guilt-tripping actually makes me want to pray less?

Maybe prayer is more than firing off theologically correct descriptions.  Maybe it’s a conversation with a person: an awesome person. 

Maybe it’s a long-distance phone call to the one who loves our very soul, regardless of how far we’ve gone. 

It’s a reminder of our engagement to God before we meet Him face to face, a moment of vulnerability to discuss our daily struggle with the one who made us, a time of healing from all the hurt we see and suffer everyday. 

Talking with Him, walking with Him.

When I think of prayer this way, I begin to miss Him.  And when I pray to Him, even when I just messed up, those moments become the favorite moments of my life.  Hanging out with God, basking in His goodness, soaking in His glory, two friends taking a walk on the beach and just talking. 

He is holy, but He became one of us too, you know.

 

I still remember the first time I really prayed without all the coercion.  I had a six month season of migraines so bad that I would go nearly blind; I needed friends to help me walk because it felt like my eyeball was stabbing itself.  Medicine didn’t help.  I went in for a CT scan to see if I had brain cancer.  I did not.

So I was on the ground one night with this migraine pressing against my optic nerves like a pick-axe grinding away, and I prayed.  I couldn’t see.  I was trying not to cry but the tears came anyway.  My head weighed a thousand pounds and I was sweating through my clenched teeth and it felt like needles in my eyelids.

Pain has a way of making you embarrassingly honest.  I was confessing sins I’ve never sinned.  I was begging God for relief.  I was making weird promises.  I went on and on until I had nothing to say.

There was no grand eloquent speech.  I didn’t use formal language, like we so often hear the pastor doing.  I was babbling, really.

It was right then, it felt like I was being steadied with calmness.  I don’t mean to sound too mystical and this isn’t something I’ve tried to duplicate.  I just knew He was there.  He didn’t acknowledge all my sputtering.  It was simply His arms around me, holding me while I was on my knees, rocking back and forth, a Father who came down to the ground and embraced me in that moment of pain.  He seemed to whisper, I am here.  I am here.  My son, I am here. 

The pain didn’t go away, but God and I — we had a great time. 

I love Him for that.  It took that sort of pain to really understand.  But after the migraines ended, I kept talking to Him.  I realized He was always there, rain or sun or in-between.  Not “waiting” for me to talk, like the guilt-trip goes, but just there.  And He loves even our stumbling attempts at prayer, because He loves the mess inside.  He can’t help Himself.

 

Isn’t this what we long for?  A constant presence to fully know our craziness and still love us. To be fully known and yet still fully loved. Because we have that in Him.  We have a God who became a man, who profoundly knows our struggle, and wants not only to hear from us, but talk with us.  To walk hand in hand and embrace us in every condition.

Maybe it’s blasphemous, I don’t know.  I just know that I’ve found the desire to pray to Him when I quit worrying about technique and method and routine, and simply just want to know Him for who He is.  He gives us the freedom to talk with Him in our messy, sloppy, flailing weirdness — and He probably prefers it. 

We can be completely ourselves with Him, however imperfectly.  

So I run to Him through distractions.  I quit the guilt trips.  I know that He works through prayer, even if I don’t know how. 

I can speak with words big or small, or none.  At times He speaks; sometimes He doesn’t; and both are okay.  I love Him in good times, bad, through pain, through dryness — and He loves me through it too. He’s singing that song over us right now.  And indeed, I pray that us tiny earthly people can bring Him glory, and that He would rain down mercy and that His holy fire would fill us. 

I pray because I love Him.

— J.S.

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11 thoughts on “Making Prayer Harder Than It Really Is

  1. very well put J. S.! I’ve found that the times when I feel less like praying…are the times I need to pray the most…! God bless you!

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  2. Yes, yes, yes….perfect….just journaled a lot this morning after a long time of not. Journaling seems to be easier for me to really spend time talking with Him so that I’m not distracted by “did I leave the stove on” stuff….then afterwards it’s just easier hanging out with Him on a daily basis in that “messy, sloppy, flailing weirdness.” I was feeling guilty just like you said…glad I’m not the only one struggling with prayer…thanks.

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  3. So very true, and whether we “speak with words big or small, or none” at all, He calls us “friend”, so may we simply pray to Him as the very best friend that we have. And during our most difficult and trying times when we know not what we should pray for, He gave us the Spirit itself to make intercession for us with ‘groanings’ which cannot be uttered. What a FRIEND indeed. ~<

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  4. ” When I pray out loud for a group, I’m often grasping for the right words, modifying my own voice to fit the crowd, self-consciously picking Christianese phrases like “bring God the glory” and “rain down mercy” and “holy fire fill us.” I don’t know what these mean, to tell you the truth”… … …
    Perfect descriptive words for me when I am leading communal prayers. THANKS Ps. J. S

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