Sometimes prayer comes as natural as breathing. I long for time with God, carve slots from my schedule for Him. My prayers soar unhindered like birds in flight. When prayer comes easy, I’ll give up anything, even sleep for it. My soul feels deprived if a day passes without prayer.
Prayer fills my spiritual sails with wind and carries me through, and often over, troubled seas. Prayer makes my small contributions to God’s kingdom meaningful. It plants holy thoughts in my mind, thoughts higher than those that come to me without prayer. This companionship I feel with Him fills my life with a strong sense of purpose.
But prayer doesn’t always come as easily as breathing. I get busy. Lazy. Ignore God. And resist Him. I feel guilty. Then resentful of the guilt. Prayer becomes an up-hill slog. My steps sink in the mire of reluctance. I choose trivial phone calls and even laundry duty over prayer. During these phases, prayer may not come to mind until I flop into bed at the end of the day.
If everything you’ve said about prayer is true, I reason with myself, then why the slog? I must have sinned. I make a mental list of acts I should’ve done but didn’t. Others I shouldn’t have but did. Bad attitudes. Thoughtless words. In a short time I’ve filled an entire page. I proceed down the morbid road of self-examination in search of the particular sin that drove a wedge between God and me. Self-examination is good but, from experience, I know, if carried too far it leads to despair. Self-examination isn’t the answer to my dilemma about prayer.
Why shouldn’t prayer always come as easily as breathing to people who love God? One day when I wasn’t looking for it I found the answer to that question. It appears in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. The older apostle is reminding the younger to remain fearless in his faith struggle. Then, he writes the little phrase that caught my attention – “After all, this is a fight we’re in.” (I Timothy 1:18, The Message)
At fourteen, my pastor’s wife (Bev Friesen) asked me, “Would you like to receive Jesus as your Savior?”
“Yes,” I said, not understanding what she meant but knowing it was exactly what I needed. She didn’t ask if I wanted to enlist for battle. If she had told me what Paul told Timothy – that we’re in a battle – I’d have said, “No thanks, fighting’s not my thing. I’m only interested in peace, love and joy.”
After decades of loving God, I’m still learning that being a Jesus-follower means doing battle. The obvious opponents – forces that demean scripture and scoff at faith – don’t hinder me as much as my tendency to drift into spiritual passivity. Winning this inner battle is more important for my soul’s wellbeing than waging war against the latest threat from the New Age or any other movement.
Prayer is needed for the fight we’re in. We can’t afford to lose our passion for it. One way to revive that passion is to keep prayer simple. Complicated prayer systems creep into the Christian’s life. Like weeds they spread roots that choke out the freedom of prayer. Well-meaning speakers urge us to follow their “Ten Easy Steps to Successful Prayer.” Before we know it, we’re indebted to a system of prayer that soon becomes lifeless. I found a good example of this on one of my bookshelves, a trite little booklet on how to succeed in prayer. It lays out eight points for perfect prayer, each one beginning with the letter P. These helps sound good at first but each person needs to meet with God face to face without a system. It’s the only way to get to know Him personally.
Jesus encouraged uncomplicated prayer. “Here’s what I want you to do,” he said. “Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace (Matthew 6:6 The Message).”
Prayer lists can complicate prayer. One of my favourite writers, A. W. Tozer, wrote, “The slave to the file card soon finds that his prayers lose their freedom and become less spontaneous, less effective. He finds himself concerned over whether he did or did not cover his prayer list for the day.”(1) Lists take the delight from prayer and turn it into a duty. Simple prayer speaks to God from the heart.
I must accept that when I signed on as a Jesus-follower, I signed up for battle. And that means praying whether I feel like it or not. My sins, though many, haven’t caused this battle. It’s simply a fact.
When this fight I’m in gets tough and prayer comes hard, I lay aside burdens I’ve picked up in my journey, burdens that don’t belong to me. Like Mary, a close friend of Jesus, I sit at His feet, to listen and adore. In those moments, I know I’ve not only chosen the best thing, but I’m staying in the fight.
This piece is from my book, One Good Word Makes all the Difference