If I asked you how your prayer life was going, what would your very first reaction be? Would it be the same feeling you got when your teacher asked everyone to take out their homework and pass it to the person in front of you, but you knew most of your answers were wrong? Or, would it be a sigh of happy contentment, like when the phone rings and you see your oldest friend's phone number flash on the caller ID, the friend who knows what you are really like and still loves you? For most of us, prayer is one of those things that we know we are supposed to be doing, but we just aren't sure what we are doing.
We sometimes feel like we have to stick to certain topics, like world peace, missionaries, and salvation for the Pygmies. (It always comes back to the Pygmies, doesn't it?) We feel less than "spiritual" when we pray for tangible, worldly things, like jobs and houses, because we are supposed to know that God will always take care of us, right? It just feels sort of weird and crass to pray about "stuff."
Sometimes praying can feel like the awkward conversations we have with relatives that we don't see often. We hope they don't know what we are really like, and we stick to the safe approved topics of conversation. We only present our good side, keeping the less than flattering details safely under wraps. Stammering through the pleasantries, we count the minutes until the command performance is over.
Prayer is really nothing more than communicating with God in the way He designed for us to do so. On the other hand, prayer is nothing less than communicating with the Maker of Heaven and Earth and everything else in-between. It has the power to be comforting and intimidating at the same time. And here's the thing…He already knows your good, your bad, and your ugly, so the only one you are putting up a front for is yourself.
Psalm 139:7 says "Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your Presence." When I was first learning about God in middle school confirmation class, I used to find this really creepy, like the Big Brother predicted for the future was already here. This definitely is true, God knows all and sees all, but when it is balanced with the fact that He loves us, it loses its creepiness. I think of it in the same vein as I think of my kids…I want to know what they are up to, whether or not I approve. I care about them and love them regardless.
In John Ortberg's book "The ME I Want To Be", he says that it should be the goal of our lives to live everyday in the joyful awareness of God's presence. That is a heavy thought, depending on where your relationship with God is. There was a time that I consciously tried to put a lot of distance between me and God, so it was not exactly a joyful awareness that I was cultivating. These days, however, just knowing He is close makes all the difference in the world.
When we pray without ceasing (2 Thess. 5:17), we invite Him into our day. Now, I joke sometimes that if I spent the whole day in prayer, nothing would get done…and that I prayed for the dishes to wash themselves and it didn't work. But, that is fitting the act of prayer into a very small scope. There is the on your knees, pouring your heart out to God kind of prayer. It is wonderful and cleansing, but not much else can be done at the same time. It is a necessary sort…like the difference between a Twitter friendship and a deep soul-bearing conversation…but not the only sort. I pray throughout my day more as a running conversation. I talk to God as I go about my business, keeping Him in the loop and asking His advice on things that are coming up. Sometimes a scripture will immediately come to mind, and it confirms to me that I am not just talking to myself in my head. He is a part of the conversation.
Other times, though, I'll be trying to pray seriously about something, and my mind keeps wandering off. I feel guilty, like when Peter, James, and John kept falling asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Ortberg's book, he calls those intruding thoughts prayers waiting to be offered. If something is on your mind as a concern or a worry, bring it to God in prayer. We've all heard the saying that if you can worry, you can pray, so incorporate the wanderings of your mind into your prayer life.
Personally, I have some fabulous conversations with God while my feet are moving. If I put on my iPod and go for a walk or a run, it unleashes something deep inside. I feel this amazing connection to God during these times. I am a restless sort, unable to sit still at one task for very long, so taking Jesus with me is a good way for me to have that one on one time with Him. Instead of being distracted by what I am doing, I am so focused on Him that the time flies by. I feel refreshed both physically and spiritually.
The key to a satisfying prayer life is finding what works for you. There is no right or wrong way to pray. God is waiting to hear from you, to be invited into your day. He is our refuge, our safe harbor, our firm foundation. He has the right and ability to eavesdrop on our lives all day long, but wouldn't you rather just tell him about everything yourself?