I really struggle with prayer. I am by no means an expert on the issue. I would say of all the disciplines it is the one I have the most trouble with. I have no business telling people how to improve their prayer, but I know a thing or two about how to ruin it. So here are three ways to make sure you ruin your prayer (the idea being not to do them).
Judge your prayer
Ironically, the best way to ruin a time of prayer is to worry about whether or not you have done it right or wrong.
This is the most enduring of my temptations in prayer. For a variety of reasons I want to pray right. As I pray I formulate ways to teach about this experience. Could I fit in a sermon or a blog post. I hope to get “better” at praying so that my children will someday talk about how spiritual a man I was. This thinking is futile and should be ignored. We are not trying to get “better” in prayer but see our own weakness and dependence on God.
The real fruit of prayer is an increased awareness of God in your day outside of prayer. If you are simply showing up to prayer then this will begin to happen, there is nothing right or wrong to judge.
Try to recreate “positive” prayer experiences
Sometimes my prayer time is dry. Sometimes it is a chore. Sometimes (more often than I like to admit) it is just minutes so I can say it has been done. Sometimes it is routine after a sermon or before a meal.
But sometimes, sometimes I find myself trembling. I feel heat or cold rush through my body. I feel energized and loved. Refreshed. Embraced. Known.
And then the next day . . . dryness.
So on the next day I think about where I was sitting. Had I recently showered? Did I read my Bible before or after the prayer? Was it that extra shot of espresso that helped me to focus so profoundly?
Anything to get that experience back.
When I do this I focus not on God, but on the method. Prayer is a grace from God and it is about the intent be present to him. Chasing after fleeting emotional or spiritual experiences is not the same as being present to God.
Allow your ego to fight back
As I said earlier, praying is not about getting better, but about realizing our weakness and dependence. This takes a pretty heavy toll on the ego, which refuses to let us be anything other than the fake identity we have created for ourselves.
As we become more accustomed to prayer our ego begins to lose its hold on us. We sense a new identity in Christ and lose our false identity. This is unacceptable to our ego and so it fights back.
For me this fight usually comes in the form of quitting. My ego wants me to be a master of all things spiritual so it won’t let me do something it has deemed I’m not good at. I feel uncomfortable, decide I’m not good at praying, so I avoid doing it. Then I don’t have to feel helpless and unskilled.
But if I can learn to be comfortable with being a novice and always being a novice, then my prayer life (paradoxically) deepens.
How to “fix” these things
Honestly, all of these things have to do with our trying to be in charge. I’ve been learning in every area of my life that the more I try to control things the more they slip through my fingers (just like star systems do to Tarkin)
(the above video is just in case you didn’t get my reference)
So what is the answer?
Just show up and want to be with God.
And remember that even when you’re not sure how “well” you’re praying, the Holy Spirit is praying for you in ways too deep for words. I think he’s probably an expert; so your prayers are going pretty well, even if you don’t realize it.
That’s three ways I think prayer can be ruined. Any thing you’d add to the list?