In the last year, the Lord has taught me so much about prayer. Partially, this has been through the influence of a fantastic book, A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller. I've heard a lot of sermons about the importance of prayer and, mostly, they've been simultaneously inspiring and guilt-inducing. "Yes! I will pray more! ... How do I do that?"
Mr. Miller's book has been refreshingly honest and practical. As a result, I've learned a few things along the way that I'd like to share with you.
1. Distracted prayer is okay.
I don't know about you, but every time I dedicate specific time to prayer, I inevitably get distracted. I'm in the middle of praying for so-and-so's cancer treatment and my internal housekeeper suddenly pops up. "Make sure to add milk to the grocery list! And clean the bathroom before your guests arrive tonight."
Not only is my "spiritual flow" interrupted, but I feel guilty for allowing this intrusion. So I try harder to concentrate, but I become more focused on not getting distracted than I do on actually praying.
The simple solution? Pray about the distraction. And I don't mean, "O Lord, please keep me from getting distracted." I mean: "Lord, clearly I have a lot to do today. I need to go grocery shopping, I need to clean the bathroom, and I'm anxious that I won't have enough energy to host tonight's guests. Will you help me to be efficient with my time and to leave my anxieties to You?"
If it's on my mind, it's worth praying about. Having brought my distraction to the Lord, I can return to my previous prayer topic. And if this scenario happens many times, then many things get prayed for!
2. Pray aloud.
It's amazing what echoes of truth come back to you when you speak your fears, your hopes, your adoration, your worship out loud. We tend to filter our prayers even from ourselves.
This is especially true when it comes to confessing sin. One day, I was struggling with a particular temptation. God doesn't usually "speak" to me in terms of an audible voice, but there are moments when He impresses truth upon me in an inescapable manner. In this case, the message arrived with unusual clarity.
"Speak it. Describe your thoughts right now in detail."
I didn't want to. This wasn't prayer. This was nakedness.
But I spoke. And as soon as I began speaking my ungodly attitude, the raw words blasted through my soul in all their horror. I reacted with physical recoiling. That was my temptation? That hideous, leering demon?
Prayer is nakedness. It is taking off the clothing of your self-perceptions and self-deceptions and standing before God with every imperfection and sin fully visible, and discovering in the shame and vulnerability that our Savior's love and gentleness is more than we could ever dream.
Dare to speak your prayers out loud: the pious and the putrid. The truth will set you free.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
3. Pray for all things.
We tend to divide our prayers into "important" and "non-important" categories, into "necessary" or "optional," into "wanted" and "useless."
It is important to pray for your friend's healing, but not important to pray that you'll be able to balance your checkbook today.
It is necessary to pray for your husband to find a job that will support the family, but it is optional to pray for the dishwasher to get fixed.
It is wanted to pray for God to provide a godly husband in your future, but useless to pray for him to enjoy traveling as much as you do.
The common thread in all these distinctions is that we acknowledge our lack of power in the important, the necessary, and the wanted, but we think we have some measure of control over things like household chores. We can adapt our expectations. We can throw more money at it. Therefore, we don't need to pray about it. The arrogance of this assumption should stagger us.
Woman of God, if it is in your heart and on your mind, your Father has an active investment in it. If, in bringing it to Him, you discover it is motivated by selfishness or pettiness, God has used the act of prayer to transform you. But He could just as easily remove the anxiety from your shoulders, bring deliverance to the situation, reveal His intimate care in even the smallest practical detail.
When we bring the "insignificant" things to Him, we give Him an opportunity to prove His love at all levels of our lives--in the great and the small. We open opportunities to worship and praise in the most mundane tasks. And we begin to look for Him in every moment of the day, because we recognize our continual neediness. It is a neediness--and a need for His closeness--that we will never outgrow.
What has the Lord taught you about prayer? What would you add to this list? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.