It was a dreary, blustery day on North American assignment, both within my own heart and outdoors. The old snow was muddy slush and the wind was howling. I called my friend Kathleen, and poured out my heart about the multitude of pressures I felt. “Have any thoughts?” I asked.
“Don’t let the urgent crowd out the important,” she answered. And I knew that prayer was one important thing that I was crowding out.
Our relationship with God makes the difference in our lives as we face decisions, the day’s upsets or any of life’s surprises. Prayer is focusing on and getting in contact with our Creator, so that God’s life and power can flow through us to others. We need this all the time, not just during seasons of extreme pressure. Hebrews 3:12-14 shows how difficulties on the journey can weaken our determination to follow Jesus. Prayer is part of the antidote!
What gets in the way of sustained prayer? In 1943, Evelyn Underhill wrote, “Ambitions and affections, tastes and prejudices are fighting for your attention. Your….consciousness flies to and fro amongst them; it has become a restless and a complicated thing.”1
We start by praying for ourselves. Take any necessary steps to work at feelings such as fear, bitterness and anger. A trusted friend or professional counselor may be part of this process. Truth-telling is the path to vibrant, authentic relationships. Words that encourage are inspired by love and directed toward any fear that is sapping strength out of the relationship.
Commitment to pray will lead to passion in prayer. Don’t wait until you feel ready. Prayer “muscles” sometimes need limbering up and the feelings come later. Choose how much time you will commit to prayer for specific people or needs. It might be a certain amount each week, or one morning every two months. If a prayer retreat is a possibility, consider that. Tell a friend about your commitment, make yourself a chart, or put in place some other form of accountability. Find some helpful resources, such as books or prayer lists. Cultivate the discipline of silence.
If you are married and have children, consider putting your husband on a “hot seat” for prayer in the middle of the living room every so often, and everyone that likes can take a turn praying. Pray for him as he drifts off to sleep, or as you are parting for the day. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what to pray.
Be creative and be free to question and experiment! Use a prayer journal and candles, or you may want to pray while running, raising your hands to God or lying prostrate on the floor. Sometimes prayer requires more discipline than we bargained for, so use your imagination. Anticipate the activity of God in answer to your prayers. Take time for the spiritual discipline of “noticing,” and connect things that happen in your week to your prayers. When God is silent, do things that lead to hope and that help you to stay consistent. Determination, patience and strength are part of consistency. Tell someone about your experience of God’s answers, by recounting the powerful and gentle care of God.