Spiritual Disciplines: Prayer
I wanted to start this post by recognizing the variety of readers that follow this blog. You're a diverse group ranging from Christian to atheist and every thing in between. At times that fact alone has made it hard for me to write about my personal beliefs about God, but it's not because I'm trying to hide them. They find their way into the majority of my posts and I try to be honest about how those beliefs effect my interactions with others and my thought development on, well, pretty much everything.
I just hate the idea of alienating people. I love sharing stories and perspectives with people whose beliefs are different than mine, but I prefer one-on-one conversations and the honest discourse that happens between friends. I want those conversations to be meaningful and personal. I find that blog posts tend to be generalized and impersonal so I've found myself more and more guarded in my writing.
Well today that is not the case. I'm using my blog to process a belief I hold and to challenge myself. It's admittedly the sort of topic that can only be discussed within the confines of Christianity as it skips all prerequisite questions about whether or not there is a God to pray to and if so whether or not he listens. I already believe God is real and listens. This is not a post intended to defend those beliefs. Please allow me the indulgence of skipping over the defense and simply writing my heart where it's at. If you're not a Christian, consider this a peak into a my faith. I'll gladly let you play the part of Jane Goodall today.
I need to make an honest confession. I don't pray. Or rather, I don't pray regularly. Prayer is probably the single most important discipline to Christianity and simultaneously a very personal gift. The Creator of the universe wants to talk to me? How could I possibly turn that down? And yet, I have. I've been a Christian for almost my entire life. I was taught the importance of praying and I honestly believe that prayer is powerful. I actually find this to be an embarrassing admission because it simply doesn't line up with my beliefs. I am by definition, a hypocrite.
I think that I have often confused thinking about God with talking to God. I think about God constantly. Every decision and opinion I have is usually weighed immediately against what I think God would think about it. I also read a lot of books about God, have a lot of conversations about God, listen to podcasts about God. But direct conversation with God? I guess I feel awkward about that. God rarely audibly speaks back so it doesn't really feel like a two-way conversation in the traditional sense. And if God knows my heart, why do I need to put into words my feelings, fears, desires, etc. If he knows my future, what is the point of asking Him for anything?
I know the answers to these questions, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that applying what I believe about prayer practically to my life has been difficult for me. Most of my prayers are short asides or cries of desperation in difficult or painful moments.
It bothers me that I seem to primarily seek out God in times of pain. I don't think it bothers God, but I know He wants more than that. I want to give Him more than that. I'm tired of being apathetic when it comes to prayer. Luckily, I currently have a pastor who pushes me and demands more from me than apathy. He has laid a challenge before me and I've accepted.
I've been challenged to make prayer a priority in my life. Let's call it an experiment to see if disciplining myself to pray will really be a game changer. The first step is having a plan: figuring out when, how, and what to pray. I've found that when it comes to any sort of discipline, diet or otherwise, having a game plan changes everything.
When: I want to be realistic. Committing myself to getting up an hour early to pray is not realistic. I don't even prioritize taking a shower if I can get 15 extra minutes of sleep. Though this has worked for many others, I think I'd be setting myself up for failure if I chose this route. Instead I think I'll have more success finding times that I'm awake but idle to commit to prayer. For starters, I'm going to commit my commutes to prayer. No radio to and from work, just prayer. This is where I plan to start and then I will go from there.
I feel like I have to say something here about the concept of "praying without ceasing." Disciplining yourself to pray does not mean you cannot pray at other times throughout the day. It simply means making a commitment to devote certain times of the day entirely to prayer without distraction. That's what I'm doing here. I'm sure there will be other times when I will pray with others and alone that will vary, but the point of this commitment is creating a new discipline.
How: I've always had the most success with prayer when I write them out. I think in addition to praying out loud on my commute, I'm going to start keeping a prayer journal. Also, as a starting point I am going to go back to the basics and model my prayer time after the Lord's Prayer for awhile. I have some other strategies in mind for the future as well, but I think this is a good starting point.
What: I can easily make a list of things to pray for: family, church, friends, etc. And I intend to do so. But I want to make a prayer commitment to one thing I will pray for every single day without exception. I am going to commit myself to praying for John Paul and August. I have made a list of very specific things to pray for for each of them.
*Edit* Although if you know the Lord's Prayer it is somewhat implied, I felt I should add that a big part of prayer should be praise. Praising God and thanking God, not just asking for things or voicing concerns. I didn't feel like I touched on that even though that's a big part of this so I wanted to say so.
If you read all of that, you're a saint. The purpose of writing this post was mostly for me---a way to sit down and really hash out what's going on in my head and come up with a plan. But part of the reason I wrote this out publicly and not in a personal journal was that I value community and the accountability that comes with community. So if you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me and I'd appreciate any encouragement you have to offer as I set out on this journey.
I'll be sure to report back with the results of this endeavor. In the mean time, thanks for walking this out with me.