By Joshua Penduck
I don’t know about you, but I find prayer difficult. I always have, and I’m guessing I always will. On occasion I say short intercessory biddings when myself or someone I know is in a bit of an emergency (sometimes called ‘Arrow Prayers’), but I’m dreadful at spending quality time in the presence of God. Now don’t get me wrong – when I start praying, on a good day I could spend a good hour simply in intercessory prayer. But these good days are pretty sporadic. You see, the problem is that I find it difficult to motivate myself to pray.
This is frustrating, because prayer is actually the most exciting thing a Christian can do. In prayer, God’s Holy Spirit prays within us, through Jesus our great High Priest who intercedes for us, drawing us to the heart of God the Father. In short, God prays within me, through God, to God. In prayer I am being drawn into the heart of reality, and thus discovering the heart of who I am and what I am called to be. In prayer, the possibilities of the future begin to open up in all their glorious potential.
And I can’t be bothered to do it.
I suppose it’s because when I do come to pray, to come to this sacred moment, I haven’t really prepared myself. Now I know that there are some schools of thought that say you should come as you are and just get stuck into things. I heartily agree: prayer is one of those things that can only be done by doing it, not theorising it! Yet, often when people say you should come as you are, they mean ‘be spontaneous’. But often when I am spontaneous in prayer, I find I’ve got nothing to say. I spend five excruciating minutes in laboured intercession, confession, or thanksgiving, and then pat myself on the back when I’ve finished, thinking myself a good Christian for doing so. It then takes me about a month of increasing guilt to get down on my knees to spend yet another excruciating five minutes with God.
Not exactly the mark of a Christian on fire.
In fact, if this was a human relationship, pretty soon you’d have a break-up.
I don’t know whether other people have that same difficulty, but I suspect that they do. The problem is, when I pray spontaneously, I go into prayer not knowing why I’m doing it. I haven’t really prepared. Sometimes, preparing ourselves to pray might be the best way of motivating ourselves to do it. Not every prayer needs to be spontaneous. If prayer is spending time with a loved one – indeed, the loved one – then as with any other loved one, there are times when you do need to prepare yourself (like on a date, for instance).
Lately I started trying a ‘four-step’ way of motivating myself to pray. It seems to work when I try it, so I thought I might share it with you. Like all prayer, these four steps require stopping and being still for a while. This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting still, though it does mean getting yourself away from the usual distractions. So in order to begin these first steps, look at your diary and find a part of your day in which you can get away from it all. Maybe that means having a bath, a run, a walk, listening to music, or hiding in the cupboard to get away from the kids. Whatever you find best, try it. Simply by doing that, you’ll find a bit of benefit!
Once you’ve got that space, try this :
1) Imagine about how big and beautiful and exciting God’s dream for the world is. Think big picture. Imagine a world without hunger, without suffering and disease, where everyone has enough. Imagine a world where there is no injustice, where there is no fear, where there is no anxiety. Imagine a world where everyone is on fire for life, where each new day is an exciting start. Imagine a world where everyone has Jesus bursting with joy within them, where they are so happy they could cry with tears of delight and bliss. Imagine a world where all your friends and family stand beside you in worship. Imagine a world where the arts are a shout of praise and just getting better all the time. Where all the best things of life are better, and everyone has a share in them. Imagine a world where the environment is safe and flourishing. Imagine a world where all creation joins in with the great dance of praise – from the stars to the songthrush. Imagine a world where you are deeply loved and understood beyond your wildest imaginations, and in turn you deeply love and understand those who are around you. In short, imagine how great life could be in the Kingdom of God.
2) Remember how unmotivated you are to achieve this. Remember the times when you did try to improve things and you made a great big mess of it. Remember how you had all those high hopes of what you could do after work or on the weekend – like cooking that great meal, reading that extra chapter of that book you’ve been meaning to read, going for a great time of exercise at the gym – and then how it all fell flat on its face the moment you sat on the sofa and turned on the TV. And then remind yourself that if you can’t achieve even these basic things, how on earth are you supposed to achieve the big picture of God’s dream for the world? Or remember that even if you are motivated to do something, everyone around you is either half asleep or worse – motivated for the wrong reasons! In short, be honest with your inability to make a real difference in the world.
3) Remember how big and great God is. Remember that though you are unmotivated, lacking energy, and incapable of achieving even the little picture (let alone the big one), God is more than motivated, more than capable, more than bursting with energy. Remember that God has so much energy that not even death itself can stop him, that in Christ the future is bursting with potential for new beginnings, bursting with the life of hope. Remember that God is so great and powerful that he is able to achieve all of the big picture, as well as the little picture. In short, get yourself a little excited in how great God is!
4) Look at those situations you know about that are in complete contradiction to God’s dream for the cosmos – those war-torn parts of the world you saw on the news, the old lady down the street who is frightened to leave the house because of the drug dealers outside, the friend who is really struggling, an injustice you read about in the papers. And after remembering steps 2) and 3), get ready to pray. In short, look at the things or people you know of that could do with a bit of God’s Kingdom.
After that, turn to God, and ask him for his Kingdom to come in this area. This is not saying that prayer will always be answered (that great mystery we’ll only truly understand when Jesus comes again). It’s about motivating yourself to get into the prayer-action in the first place!
Don’t think that you have to walk the steps in that order. Most of the time I tend to start with step two and remember how unmotivated I am. Other times I start with step four after being confronted by a difficult pastoral situation or something I’ve seen on the news. Othertimes, I’m reading the Bible and am prompted to start with step three after being reminded of the great things God did long ago. Whichever order you do it, try these four steps out. You might find yourself enjoying praying after all!
You might find yourself opening up into other areas of prayer as well. For instance, after thinking about step two, you might find yourself saying sorry to God for the ways in which you are unmotivated or have even blocked God’s Kingdom. After thinking about step one, you might find yourself praising God for how good and wonderful and beautiful he is for what his dream for his Kingdom looks like. After step three, you might find yourself thankful to God for the things he has done in times gone by, or the things he has done in your own life. After step four, you might find yourself in quiet contemplation, not knowing how to pray for a situation, but simply presenting it in the silence before God.
Sometimes some or all of these steps may be difficult to think about. Sometimes you can’t imagine how great the Kingdom of God is, or how great God is. Sometimes you are so unmotivated that to even think through these steps is difficult. But I suppose those are the points which it is the most important to pray.
So, maybe try these four steps out? Hopefully you might find yourself caught up in the great wonder that is God…