Cultivating a life of prayer and prayer in real life

Why does prayer feel so hard sometimes? Perhaps we have forgotten (or never learned) what it means to depend on God throughout our day— and by extension for our lives. And so, prayer is an intermittent part of our day at best, or altogether missing.

Or we may have seasons of intensity, suffering or need where we turn to God regularly in prayer, but when our requests are answered, or resolved or normalized, we stop.

Yet, the Bible says to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  I admit, that seems unattainable for many of us. 

But the call to pray without ceasing doesn’t mean we lock ourselves in our closet, spurn our responsibilities or callings, and pray in solitude for the rest of our days. We only need to look at the council of Scripture to see all the ways God calls His people up and out into the world, so certainly prayer does not replace living out the gospel.

Instead, what we need to learn from the letter to Thessalonica is a whole new way to view our lives, through the lens of prayer and dependence on God in all we do. Prayer is akin to the breathing we do throughout the day— the very support fueling everything else. 

So we desire to cultivate more than a prayer list, but a prayer life. 

How do we do this? We pray. What is prayer? Simply talking to God. Ok— but how do we actually do this? Scripture and faithful Christians throughout the centuries have given us excellent models and examples for prayer.

Ways to cultivate our prayer life 

Praying passages of the Bible The most fundamental way we learn to pray is from God Himself. We turn to His Word, and pray His words right back to Him. 

  • Pray with Jesus. When the disciples asked Him how to pray (the very question we are asking now), He answered them with the Lord’s Prayer. 
  • Adapt passages of the Bible by inserting your name or writing it in your own words.
  • Pray the prayers of the Bible, including the Psalms and many of the prayers noted throughout the Bible including the prayers of—
    • Paul (most of his letters open with a prayer for the recipients, Ephesians 1:15-23 as an example), Hannah (1 Samuel 2), Mary (Luke 1:46-55), Simeon and Anna (Luke 2), Isaiah (Isaiah 6 in the temple), Stephen (Acts 7), Jonah, (Jonah 2) as well as Jeremiah, Elijah, Job, Miriam, Eli, Daniel, Ezra, Jacob, Jehoahaz, Habakkuk, Hezekiah, Manoah, Moses, Nehemiah.
  • As you pray, take a moment to notice, what do their words tell us about their view of God? For what are they asking? Adapt their prayers and the ardency with which they prayed to your own life, time and circumstance.  
  • Pray with lament. Cry out to God and ask for His help.
    • Lament has four movements: Address, complaint, request, expression of trust. 
    • There are 65 Psalms of lament recorded for us, including Psalm 3, 13, 42, 44 and 60.

Silently listening and then obeying what God says Practice stillness and silence before the Lord. Test what you think you’re hearing God say against Scripture and if you’re uncertain, ask other more mature Christians to pray with you for discernment and wisdom in hearing God. Once you hear, obey. Obedience is the engine of transformation.  

Praying with others and praying for others Stop, drop everything and let the prayers roll! How often do you commit to praying for someone, and then a few days go by and you…. forget? Instead, stop right there and pray, in person or on the phone. Or if applicable, send a prayer written out by text message. 

Praying at set times Literally set an alarm to remind yourself to call to mind the presence of God and intentionally turn to Him, be aware of Him in your daily life 

Praying through the Bible using historic Christian practices

  • Lectio divina is Latin for sacred reading. The practice of going repeatedly through a short section of Scripture has been used for more than a thousand years. There are 4 steps—reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating. Each time you go through the Bible passage, take time to pause, notice, and interact with the Holy Spirit. 
  • The Examen Ignatius, founder of the Jesuit order of priests, practiced a five-step process called the examen: give thanks, ask, review, repent, renew. The regular practice of the examen can free us from the effects of unconfessed sin. With the examen we can also become more sensitive to discerning God’s voice and moving forward with Him, as we reject our sinful desires. 
  • Utilize collections of prayers There are entire collections of books with prayers that have been passed down through generations of Christians, such as Valley of the Vision. These books can be helpful when we struggle with finding the words to say, or if our hearts are distracted and need help focusing in prayer.
  • Journal out your prayers We have the recorded prayers of such Saints as Augustine, Martin Luther,  Charles Spurgeon, Elisabeth Elliott, and many, many more. They wrote down their prayers to process their own hearts and thoughts, and so can we. 
    • Write what is on your heart and offer it to God. Ask Him to tend, take, supply, intervene, reveal, instruct, chasten…have His way with you and the concerns you raise.  
    • Make lists of thanksgiving, concern, desire, good things that have happened, answered prayers.  
    • Dream with the Holy Spirit and allow God to use your imagination to honor Him.  
    • Record what God is saying to you by the Holy Spirit.  

Ultimately, these are all practices and habits which can be helpful, and can spur obedience in our all-too-easily distracted age. 

But more than anything, we need hearts that desire to draw near to God— hearts that want to spend time with Him, listen to Him and depend on Him in all things. When we seek to pray, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us, for in our own power, surely we cannot.