8 Ways to Improve Your Prayer LifeNovember 1, 2013
Of all the spiritual activities in which a believer is expected to embrace, prayer, at least in my own experience, is perhaps the most neglected and perplexing. I don’t want it to be. I want, as I am sure you want, to be a prayer warrior. I want to be a champion of intercession and supplication, but to my chagrin, I fall short of such a title. Instead of a warrior, I often feel like a water-boy: a weak, unlearned novice that half-heartedly mumbles a few sophomoric words of random religiosity. You know what I mean: vague, common, memorized statements that have little content or purpose (bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies; lead, guide, and direct us; Lord, bless my church). It’s not that there is no value in such statements; it’s just that they are substitutes for actual intimacy.
And that’s really the biggest problem in our prayer life: a lack of intimate fellowship with our Heavenly Father. For many people, prayer is difficult, not because they don’t love the Lord, but because they simply don’t know how to be intimate with God.
As with any relationship, communication is vital for growth. I personally believe that prayer is an ongoing education; it develops, changes, and evolves over time. It intrinsically takes on the identity of our relationship with God in that particular season of life; it is an ongoing work in progress. As one writer put it, “Prayer offers an opportunity for God to remodel us, to chisel marble like a sculptor, touch up colors like an artist, edit words like a writer. The work continues until death, never perfected in this life.”
Only in death will our prayer life come to perfect maturity. It is only then we will accomplish the ultimate aim of prayer: to be in the perpetual and uninterrupted presence of God. But until then, we can make strides as the wanna-be-warrior, water-boys that we are.
1. Learn to Listen.
We limit our prayer life when we do all the talking; half of prayer is listening. Imagine how such a scenario would play out in a different relationship. Suppose a friend calls you, talks for thirty minutes, complains about everything in his life, and then hangs up without you articulating one word. Real communion doesn’t work that way. Be still, be quiet, and occasionally allow God to speak without interruption on your part.
2. Move beyond Shallow, Meaningless Words.
Empty statements and phrases are the curse of prayer. Martin Luther said, “The fewer the words, the better.” I would say, make sure those words, regardless of the quantity, are not ordered in vague generalities.
3. Be Gut-Wrenchingly Honest.
Why do we try to cover up with God? God knows our hearts, our intents, our very words. If you are frustrated, tired, weary, unhappy, or even angry, communicate that to the Lord. C.S. Lewis said, “May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.” Just be real with God, and move beyond the pretentious facades that fool everyone else.
4. Seek His Will in the Nuances.
For some reason we only want to “breakthrough” when we need revelation, healing, answers, and solutions. God is certainly there for such monumental moments; but what really develops a strong relationship is seeking God’s will in the minutiae of life. Such a pursuit will force you to your knees in the most inconspicuous of moments. Seeking God’s will in the trivial conundrums of life is how you live consciously, and continually, in the presence of the Lord.
5. Talk About Other People as though their Lives Depended on it.
How often do you bring your laundry list before the Lord? How many of those items have your name attached to them? When we adopt a selfless attitude toward prayer, and intercede continually for others, we not only strengthen the lives of other people, but God, in return, grows our faith and strengthens our communion with Himself.
6. Pray the Promises of God.
Prayer and Scripture are mutually inclusive. Prayer is the venue in which we speak to God; Scripture is the venue in which God speaks to us. Read, study, and declare the promises of God through, in, and by your prayer life. Search the Scriptures, and then claim those promises by faith through prayer to the Lord.
7. Pray Even When You Don’t Feel Like It.
Prayer is like a slow-moving glacier in the frigid and still waters of complacency. It seems as though it is not moving or progressing. Unhurried, boring, and mundane it appears; but once it hits the shoreline, it does so with earth-shaking, life-altering impact. Small, incremental prayers on a daily basis transforms our spiritual identity. I love what Henri Nouwen said, “Sitting in the presence of God for one hour each morning- day after day, week after week, and month after month, in total confusion and with a myriad of distractions- radically changes my life.”
8. Pray with Expectation.
Expect God to hear and respond – because that is exactly what happens. Granted, His response may or may not be compliant with your desire; but it will be for your advantage. God either gives you what you ask for, or something infinitely better. Praying without expectation is like playing a piano without sound. What an absurdity to think that such an instrument would not sound forth once the keys are pressed. The secret, however, is getting it in tune with the Master’s melody. Pray with expectation, and expect God to give the right song. Sing for God, and He will sing for you. The most beautiful prayers are those when both you and God are singing together.