I remember lying in bed when I was 7 years old praying for everything and everyone. With my chin propped up on my hands, I’d pray for my sisters, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, friends, people from church, people in my town, in my state, in my country and all around the world. I’d even pray for people in heaven and hell. Then I would fall asleep and do it again the next night.
With that kind of childhood prayer life, one might think I grew up to be a passionate prayer warrior who sees God answer my requests in awesome ways.
But the truth is that I’ve sometimes gone weeks without faithfully going to the Lord in personal prayer. My excuses range from busyness to tiredness to a downright lack of self-discipline.
The worst part is, I know I’m not alone.
Paul Miller, author of A Praying Life, writes how America is the worst place in the world for a believer in Christ to cultivate a quality prayer life:
We are so busy that when we slow down to pray, we find it uncomfortable. We prize accomplishments, production. But prayer is nothing but talking to God. It feels useless, as if we are wasting time. Every bone in our bodies screams, “Get to Work.” (A Praying Life, page 15)
So how do we turn to the Lord in prayer when so many other things are pulling at our attention? How do we pray without the anxiety that we are wasting our time?
1. Understand Why We Pray
Prayer is a mysterious gift from God that connects us to our Creator in an intimate way. Jesus constantly sought out quiet places to pray to the Father, most notably on the eve of His crucifixion in Gethsemane. (Mark 14:32-46; John 22:39-49)
We worship a sovereign God, meaning that He is in control of all things. And He invites us to pray for Him to intercede in our lives and the lives of others in the world. We don’t know how He does it—it’s a mystery—but we do know that He responds.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
We pray because we need God to make a difference in our lives.
2. Learn How to Pray
This may sound like a trite point, but Jesus gives us the perfect example of how to pray in the gospels. Not only does he offer the Lord’s Prayer, we see examples of how He prays to the Father. This gives us a window into the heart of God and how we can communicate with Him in our own lives.
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9-13)
Heed Jesus’ warning to pray humbly and honestly before the Lord. Before telling the disciples how to pray, He said, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5)
3. Pray Constantly
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
This admonition to the Thessalonians was Paul’s way of communicating the importance of daily dependence on the Lord. Many of us only turn to the Lord when we are worried or in trouble. Sometimes we pray out of habit before meals. Other times we pray corporately at church or in small groups. But to leave it there would be a mistake.
We need a daily communion with God, and the only way that will happen is if we understand the importance of prayer and act on it.
Whether you pray on a regular basis or you’re struggling to keep Christ at the center of your life, we can all benefit from a more vibrant prayer life. To get you going on the right track, there is no greater modern book on prayer than Paul Miller’s A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. You can also get inspired to pray by watching the powerful Kendrick brothers’ movie War Room.
Or, simply take this moment to utter a prayer of thanks for all that God has done for you yesterday, today and forevermore. And then continue this prayer of thanksgiving as often as it comes to mind.
Let’s not hesitate. Let’s stop putting it off till later. Let’s pray.
Corum Hughes works on the production team for HAVEN Today and is the managing editor of the All About Jesus blog. His passions include running, biking, reading, watching movies, and seeking Jesus in places He is seldom sought. Corum lives with his wife in California.