Do you ever feel like you struggle to pray? I do. I find it so hard to sit still and keep my mind focused, and then I feel guilty that it’s so difficult. I don’t think I’m alone though. In fact, I think God knew this would be difficult for us, because the Bible is full of instructions regarding prayer, and prayers for us to use as a model.
One reason I think prayer has become so difficult for us is technology, in particular the smartphone. We have become conditioned to respond to its every ping and vibration. It commands our attention, and we oblige over and over again. How can an invisible God compete with that? Without concentrated effort, our phones take precedence over the people who are physically in front of us. This spills over into my relationship with God, and specifically into my prayer life. If I can’t keep from being distracted when I have a live human being in front of me, how am I going to keep from being distracted in a silent conversation with an invisible God? The whole thing starts to feel like a vicious cycle of my effort, failure, and then guilt. I certainly don’t think this is how God wants his children to feel about talking to him.
So God helps us. He always helps us because he loves us. Michael Reeves, in his little book “Enjoy Your Prayer Life,” says, “…the God of fellowship wants fellowship with us. He wants us to argue his promises and his character with him, for then who He is becomes an ever more conscious reality for us. We grow as we persist…” (p. 14).
“We grow as we persist…” to me that says this will take effort, this will take practice, it won’t necessarily come naturally. And if I’m going to “argue his promises and his character with him,” I better know what those are. The Psalms are a perfect example of this, and they are often called the Bible’s prayerbook. Over and over again the psalmists call on the promises and the character of God to vindicate them in whatever trial or trouble they face. A number of years ago I led a study of a book called “Praying the Bible” by Donald Whitney. In it we practiced praying the psalms as part of our daily prayer rhythm, and for me it was life-changing. For one thing, I’d never seen or read a book that came right out and said, “prayer is hard.” But I also loved his remedy: pray the word of God back to God. This has continued to be my practice, especially when interceding for someone else. Like most people, I have little trouble pouring out my own needs, but I find myself rather tongue-tied when trying to pray for others. It seems like I’m saying the same things over and over, and it starts to feel like my words lack sincerity. But the word of God never lacks sincerity or power. With a little practice, I found that my intercession was even more fervent, especially when praying for friends and family to come to Christ.
As I continued to pray the Psalms, I found that I was turning other parts of the word into prayers as well, even parts that don’t really seem prayer-like. In the Old Testament when the prophets were warning Israel of the coming judgement for their disobedience or laying out in graphic terms what would come to those who oppressed or opposed God’s chosen people, I would turn those passages around and ask God to call those in my family who don’t know him to turn and repent so as to avoid judgement and punishment.
Isaiah 55:10-11 says, “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with My word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it” (New Living Translation). One of the ways that God’s word is “sent out…to accomplish all he wants it to” is by our speaking it and praying it and trusting the results to Him.
The next 31 days we will be journaling throughout the Bible on the topic of prayer. Some passages will be instructive, some are meant to encourage you, some are prayers prayed by God’s people in specific times of need, some are warnings, but all are meant to spur you on and help you in your prayer life. Many of the passages are quite long, you are free to journal all of it or to pick out only the verses that speak to you. Try not to rush and if you’re new to this or if you’ve never used one of the tools I posted about last week, try incorporating one of them into your journaling time. But absolutely, when appropriate, pray these verses! One suggestion: when I first started trying to pray the word I did it out loud, changing the pronouns and inserting names to make it more personal. It helped me learn the cadence so it didn't feel so awkward. It is also tremendously beneficial to hear the word of God spoken out loud, and the enemy hates it!
Be further encouraged by the words of Michael Reeves, “To know you are a beloved child of God protects you from thinking of prayer as a ladder to God or an exercise by which you work your way into his favor. Prayer doesn’t make you more accepted. Instead, prayer is growing in the appreciation of what you have been given. It may be that your heart is cold, your love is weak, and your prayers are shabby, but what matters is that, united to Christ and in him, you are a cherished (child) - and your Father delights to hear you” (Enjoying Your Prayer Life, p.17).
And I LOVE to hear from you too! I welcome your questions and comments and will try to respond, especially if you’re struggling or have a question about the “how” of scripture journaling. One more thing, and I’ve said this before: I write plans that I need, not plans that I’ve mastered. I do the journaling with you in real time. We are all on the same path and I am so grateful you have joined me.