Has your prayer life changed over the years as you have grown in your spiritual relationship?
I do not profess to have completed theological education on prayer; however, I have spent many hours of my life praying–sometimes routinely, sometimes sporadically, sometimes fervently, and sometimes conversationally.
As a child, I can remember “talking” to Jesus way before I understood who He was. My own daddy had passed away just before my third birthday, and some family member (I have no idea who) must have told me my daddy was in heaven with Jesus. From my earliest Vacation Bible School days, I understood that Jesus was always with us, so in my child’s mind, I pictured Him beside me as I went through my days, kind of like an invisible shadow. Since my daddy was in heaven, it followed in my thinking that if Jesus was on one side of me, my daddy must be on the other. I essentially felt that I walked around enveloped in a “shadow sandwich” with Jesus on one side and Daddy on the other. They kept me from being lonely, comforted me when I was scared, and listened to me when I talked. And I talked…A LOT. Evidently a growing three-year old has lots to talk about that grownups do not understand!
As I gradually grew into adolescence, I began to understand the difference between my daddy being with Jesus “in heaven” and Jesus being my Lord and Savior. So, my prayers changed a little. I continued to pray to Jesus and I must admit during the traumatic pre-teen and teen years he was my constant companion. I was an introvert, it was difficult for me to make friends, and I suffered from what I now understand was a form of separation anxiety whenever I left my family’s presence. I spent many hours praying and talking with Jesus, sharing events of my life, working through anger and hurt, and crying myself to sleep as I shared my overwhelming fears—my biggest fear was that I was going to lose someone else I loved to “heaven.” At this point in my life Jesus was my closest friend and confidante.
Fast forward many years and my prayer pattern changed once again. I no longer prayed and talked to Jesus. I prayed to The Heavenly Father, or God Almighty. I became more “formal,” in my address and requests. I attempted to follow the “formula” taught in Sunday School and Discipleship Class. I always ended my prayers with “In Jesus’ Name I pray.” I exhausted myself going through my prayer check-list, so much so, that at times I didn’t address my own concerns or needs if time ran short. I was lowest on my own priority list.
One day I started to wonder why I didn’t feel as close to Jesus as I had once been. I was certainly praying more and spending more time in Bible study. But I remembered my teen years when I would sit at my little homework desk, my Bible open to Psalms and pour my heart out to Jesus just as if he were sitting at the desk with me. I was so “comfortable” with him then, and unreserved in my prayers and praise. I loved those conversations. He was a true friend to me. When had that changed?
I realized my prayer life had changed when I had started praying the way I “thought” I was supposed to. I tried to include all the proper reverence and cover every aspect: praise, confession, thankfulness, prayer and petitions. I researched outlines and checklists on how to pray, when to pray, what to pray for and what not to pray for, etc. I had made prayer a “must do” routine, rather than an enjoyable practice. Rather than using prayer as a conversation to communicate and get to know the Lord, I was using it as a homework assignment for being a Christian.
I began to think that God had probably appreciated my child-like prayers a lot more than my current prayers because, as a child, I had trusted Him with everything that was going on in my life and whatever thought popped into my head I had shared with Him. I had not worried about my “prayer technique” or presentation, whether I was being selfish or whiny, or if I had followed all the points of appropriate prayer etiquette. I had not prayed as if it was an English/Bible assignment that was going to be graded by the great Biblical Editor. I had simply prayed with childlike trust, believing that he heard my prayers, understood my prayers, and answered them according to His will and, for those prayers that were not answered in the manner I requested, I accepted that He knew what was best for me and I trusted that as well.
I decided I wanted to return to a personal, satisfying prayer life. My first action was to throw all I knew of prayer formalities out the window, and just do what I felt the Lord leading me to do whenever we spent time together. I set aside a quiet time each day to sit before the Lord with my Bible open and pray. I also began taking the opportunity to pray spontaneously at other times throughout the day: when I was walking, washing dishes, doing laundry, or performing other tasks that did not require my undivided attention. (Note: Please do not misunderstand me. I did not stop praying to Him with reverence and awe and respect. I continue to do so; but I also open myself to Him now, seeking His presence, knowing that He is a personal God and seeks a personal relationship with each of His children.)
The biggest change I made in my prayer life was in “being still and listening” and I’m still working on improving this aspect. Being still does not come easy in this busy, fast-paced world. We must make it a point to stop talking and listen at some point in time, so we can hear if He is telling us to do something. Sometimes when I’m praying the Lord will place someone on my heart so strongly that I will write them a card, send them a text, call or visit them. Sometimes I am more conversational in my prayers as if Jesus and I are walking side-by-side along the sea shore or as if He is sitting with me enjoying a cup of coffee. Sometimes I’m more formal, seeking a place of solitude where I can get on my knees and bow my head before my Heavenly Father. At other times, I converse with the Holy Spirit trying to discern what he is leading me to do. Since I’ve taken the “formula” out of how I must “do” my prayer life, I have become more relaxed, and I enjoy my time with the Lord more. I have a feeling He is enjoying it more as well.
Think about your prayer life and make the changes you feel are necessary to improve your prayer relationship. The more we pray, the better we get to know Him, and the more comfortable we will be in our prayer life. The more comfortable we become in our prayer life the stronger our relationship will be with the Lord. It is not a pass or fail process. It is a privilege we, as His children, have been given and we should take advantage of this privilege if we want serve Him.
- Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
- Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
- Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jeremiah 29:12 (NIV)
- The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 (NIV)
Please let me encourage you to make your prayer life a personal, enjoyable experience. Your conversations with the Lord will be so much more rewarding.