"My prayer life," he replied, adding, "I'm not sure I've ever understood prayer."
"Join the club," I said.
As we continued to discuss prayer, it became clear what was lacking in our prayer lives was actual time praying. We could define prayer, explain prayer, model prayer, and validate the centrality of prayer from the pages of Scripture. Unfortunately, our knowledge of prayer did not translate to the practice of prayer.
Praying is a challenge. It is the hard work of turning our anxieties into pleas for dependence and deliverance. It is the difficult task of making others' worries into our concerns, which we present with empathy and zeal before God. And it is the discipline of quieting our fears so we can hear from our heavenly Father.
This last aspect of prayer is critical, because I want more than the assurance of God's ear. I want the encouragement of His voice.
The simple (but not easy) solution to hearing God better results by creating space for conversational prayer. And creating space is not the same as finding space. We can all discover an extra twenty minutes in traffic, on the toilet, or in between meetings. Rather than sinking our faces into mobile devices in these margins, we can turn our eyes to the heavens. Without a doubt, discovering prayerful moments is a great habit. Better, however, is disciplining a prayerful life.
The organized prayer life sets aside times and seasons for deliberate prayer. It creates patterns and liturgies to guard against distractions. Over time the structured prayer life results in spontaneous moments of prayer.
For a more thorough discussion the matter, I suggest purchasing and reading Timothy Keller's recent book entitled Prayer. The final chapter offers detailed steps to crafting healthy prayer patterns. To remain blog-friendly (i.e. concise), I'll suggest a few organizing principles.
- Daily Prayer: Pray through the Lord's Prayer daily (Matthew 6:9-13). Take time thinking through the various aspects, so its not the mindless repetition Jesus warns against (6:5), but worshipful reflection on God's character, kingdom, our needs, our sins, and our threats. Let the Lord's Prayer start or close your day.
- Weekly Prayer with Others: Whether your prayer partner is a spouse, mentor, or friend, establishing a time to intercede together weekly is a bonding experience. My wife and I have a Saturday night prayer date.
- (Bi-)Monthly Prayer Retreat: In my monthly schedule, I devote the first Thursday afternoon to prayer. My routine includes journaling, singing, reading psalms, petition for my family (biological and church), and listening.
- Dedication Prayers: Mix short prayers of dedication into everyday situations, asking God to bless Bible reading, meals, work day meetings, school day interactions, personal projects, and extracurricular events. These prayers make every moment sacred, and provide a natural window to pray with others.
- Use Prayer Guides: While my love for novelty has make me skeptical of liturgy, I have come to appreciate prayer guides, such as Kenneth Boa's Drawing Near or the Book of Common Prayer. These works organize Scriptures to serve as prayer prompts for each day of the month.