A while back I confessing to Steve McCoy that I often feel like I'm a better Deist than Christian. He knew exactly what I meant. I was having prayer issues. A Deist doesn't believe God is actively involved in the world, but that he created the cosmos to run on its own and walked away. In other words, God doesn't get involved in our world or our lives. He is essentially absent. In such a world prayer would be meaningless because God doesn't poke his head in, much less intervene on our behalf. Of course in contrast the Christian believes that the Lord is a God of providence; that he actively governs all the affairs of the world and is intimately involved in even the details of our lives. The growing grass, the dying birds, one man's prosperity, and another's poverty, when and where we live and the day of our death are all things God is carefully overseeing. Because God is connected to our world and life, it only makes sense that we would want to appeal to him in prayer to act.
In fact God invites us to commune with him; talk with him about our desires and experiences - our needing and bleeding. He calls us to call on him and he responds. God acts. And yet prayer is too often an amazing gift that I take for granted. So, when I say I feel like more of a Deist than Christian I am confessing that my prayer life is often too small, and does not always reflect a belief in the God who is there, who cares and is involved. So as I spent a lot of time working through my practice of prayer I came to a few conclusions.
I was praying too little.
I was praying with too little passion.
I was praying with too little optimism (this is a nicer way to say I was praying with little faith).
So, as I have been thinking through the implications of my theology on prayer, and catching a vision for what a healthy prayer life would look like, I also began pulling together a plan to reboot the whole thing. The goal, to state it simply, is to develop a more constant attitude and spirit of prayer throughout each day. Here's how I have been rebooting my prayer life. It may be helpful to a few others out there.
1. Properly define prayer. Yes, prayer can be simply understood as conversing with God. But what most need is a robustly theological perspective on prayer. One of my favorite treatments of the subject is John Bunyan's famous treatise. His definition of prayer is clarifying and helpful.
Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.
This biblical definition of prayer merits some considerable meditation. Better yet - read Bunyan on the subject. Why is this important? The better you understand what prayer is, the better your prayer life will become. For example, for prayer to be legit Bunyan says it must be affectionate. Does that characterize your conversation with God, or is it more of a recitation; an unaffected reading of a grocery list of needs? I will not exegete his definition at the moment, but spend time working through the implications. Do you pray for things God has promised, according to the word? Do you pray submitting yourself to God's wisdom and ways? Do you pray in faith - believing? Clearly defining what prayer is helps to both guide and evaluate our praying.
2. Schedule time for extended prayer. Casual, spontaneous prayer is a good thing, but so is more formal, scheduled prayer. Set aside time each day to get alone with God. Early morning, late evening, lunch break - whatever. Make the time to get quiet and enter into a time of real communion with God. I know that some claim scheduling prayer feels a bit artificial, but such thinking would also dismiss a scheduled date with your spouse. Would scheduling a date with your wife mean a lack of intimacy? I hope not. The point is, without a schedule you are simply much less likely to have extended times of prayer.
3. Learn a method of prayer. Extended time alone with God is hard for most, and without a method to work through it, such times of prayer are often hijacked by pressing issues that are waiting to take over our attention. Even getting back on track can be tough. I blogged on the old ACTS model a while back, and I continue to use it as a method of prayer, though these days I call it the PACTS model because I kick it off with a Psalm.
- Psalm (a different Psalm each time I pray) This is helpful as it draws my focus to God's character and work, sets my mind and heart in a direction where I can work through the rest of this method.
- Adoration Praising God for who he is, what he has done. It is a focus on his glory. The Psalms are particularly helpful here, and this aspect of prayer is very dependent on having a well developed theology.
- Confession Spend time considering, confessing and crucifying sin.
- Thanksgiving Thank God for his provision, care, promises etc.
- Supplication Our pleading with God for our and others specific needs.
4. Create cues to prompt you throughout the day. Cues are triggers or prompts that remind us to pray throughout the day. This is not just adding another ritual to a moment, but a calling of yourself back to a frame of mind where you recognize God is present with you, and you are always dependent on him. Get creative and use technology as cues. Tape reminders on your bathroom mirror, stick post-it notes in your planner, leave yourself voice mail at work, send yourself an email in the future, have friends promise to randomly call and remind you to pray, etc.
5. Master the short prayer. The short prayer is the sudden, unplanned, informal interaction you have with God in the moment. It may be praise, supplication, or confession. I say the short prayer must be "mastered" because it cannot simply be the lazy man's prayer habit where God is casually addressed with less interest than we would the lady taking our order at the drive through window. To master the short prayer we must not only keep in mind the proper definition of prayer (it still applies here of course!), but we also have to work on "practicing the presence" of God. Apart from learning to walk through each day with the awareness the God is with us and we are dependant on him we will never master the short prayer.
These are five things I have focused on to help reboot my prayer life. I'd love to hear about any tools, methods, and encouragement you've found related to this issue as well.