GROWING IN PRAYER

I would think there are some readers who may be satisfied with their prayer life, but my sense is that most of us are not. I’ve been a Christian for 58 years and a pastor for over four decades, but have never been fully satisfied with my prayers. If I drew a graph of my practice of prayer through the years it would be a long line of ups and downs.

Yesterday I counted the books I own about prayer on my shelves and came up with around 30. All of them have been encouraging and helpful, but none of them resulted in my being totally satisfied with my prayer life.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a new book on prayer and finished reading it yesterday. The title is Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone by James Martin. Martin is a Jesuit priest and a good writer. If I were to recommend one book on prayer it wouldn’t be this one, but it does have a wealth of information, direction, and encouragement for any reader who wants to grow his or her prayer life. I was encouraged, challenged, and overwhelmed with regard to prayer by this book.

I won’t review the book in this post, but I would like to share a few selected quotes (gems) from the 371 pages that I hope you will find interesting and provocative.

Martin says about his book, “Learning to Pray is written for everyone from the doubter to the devout, from the seeker to the believer. It’s an invitation for people who have never prayed. It’s designed for people who would like to pray, but are worried they will do it in the wrong way. It’s meant for people who have prayed and haven’t found it as satisfying as they had hoped” (p. 9).

“Your desire to pray is a sign that God desires you. We pray because we want to be in a relationship to God” (p. 28). 

“But the goal of prayer is closer union with God” (p. 29).

“. . . it’s important to remember in prayer that you’re not simply talking to a friend. You’re talking to God” (p. 41).

“Few of us are monks or cloistered nuns with hours of time to pray” (p. 51).

“The same practices that make for a good relationship with other people make for a good relationship with God” (p. 57).

“Prayer is conscious conversation with God” (p. 58).

“Sometimes when imagining yourself speaking to God, you might also try imagining what God would say in return” (p. 76).

“What works for one person may not work for another” (p. 94).

“Sometimes we glide through prayer without paying attention to the fact that we are doing something meaningful, something profound, something holy. “. . . even if you’ve been praying for many years, you can always learn something new” (p. 137).

“It’s healthy to recognize our failings and sinfulness” (p. 149).

“It’s both natural and human to pray for what we want. How could anyone stand before God and not feel a longing to ask for the help they need?” (p. 188)

“The more you pray, the more you’ll be able to sift through distractions. Think of it as a conversation with a friend” (p. 230).

“The older I get, the simpler my prayer seems to become” (p. 274).

“All God promises is that God will be with us, God does not promise to solve all the problems in our lives” (p. 315).

“The fruits of prayer are in the hands of God” (p. 351).

“Prayer is not simply to help us feel good about ourselves or close to God. It should move us to action” (p. 356).

Martin’s writing about prayer is personal, honest, and down to earth.

You may want to grow in your prayer life but are not interested in getting and reading Martin’s Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone. If you’re not, I would like to recommend a second book that is much shorter, yet I found helpful and encouraging – written by C.S. Lewis, entitled How to Pray, and published in 2018.

Free Stock photos by Vecteezy

GROWING IN PRAYER

I have no way of knowing for sure, but my sense is that far more people pray than those who don’t. Not only that, my sense also is that many of those who do pray often wish they were better at praying. I am one of those who would like to grow in prayer.

A beginning point in learning to pray is the example Jesus set in his prayer life. Luke 11:1 tells us, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’.” His response was what we call The Lord’s Prayer and a model for us.

During the last couple of months I have been thinking and reading about prayer and how I can do better in my prayer life. One of the books I read that was the most encouraging and challenging was by Robert Benson entitled In Constant Prayer (pub. by Thomas Nelson, 2008). Here are some selections that I found motivating.

“At some point, we have to move from talking about prayer to saying our prayers” (p. 81). I don’t particularly like the phrase saying our prayers, but I was convicted to stop talking about prayer to actually praying. Benson noted “The only way to become a writer is to write” (p. 96). I paraphrase his next observation: you do not become a person of prayer and then begin to pray. If you pray enough, you may yet become a person of prayer. People of prayer pray every day.

Two chapters later Benson slapped me in the face so to speak with this affirmation: “it is far more likely that we do not recognize God’s presence in our lives than it is that God is not present in our lives” (p.130, emphasis added). My takeaway is that one of the ways we can better recognize God’s presence in our lives is through growing in prayer.

Near the end of the book his honesty both challenged and encouraged me with his acknowledgement: “Sometimes I feel as though I have traveled far on this rode. But the truth is that in a way I am in the same place I was when I began all those years ago” (p.147). Based on what I had read in the previous pages I could not help but think he was being a little too hard on himself.

Benson also reminds readers that there is “the need for us to pray corporately as well as to pray personally” (p. 148). I have been present and participated many times in corporate prayer. Some have been moving and meaningful and others have been a mixed bag. Some of the most satisfying times of prayer for me have been in small groups, some with just me and my prayer partner of several years.

I’m for corporate prayer and believe Christians should be praying together. But my desire and challenge to readers of this post is to take steps to grow in our personal prayers – even if we begin with baby steps.

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