This is difficult to confess as a pastor - but prayer is hard. I've always been a good Bible study guy because it's objective, it's concrete, it's easy to measure. Prayer has always been more difficult for me because it is the opposite of all those things. Plus, it's so personal with God it's threatening. Because maybe He's going to ask me to actually change something about the way I'm doing my life. In the past couple years I have made some good progress in the area of prayer - here are a few of my learnings:
- Pray out loud - this may seem a little weird but it has helped me a lot. If you do this around people you will look nuts (which is not always bad), but I would recommend a quiet room somewhere by yourself for a designated amount of time. It is much more normal to just talk - much easier to stay focused. Approach prayer like a conversation.
- Follow my mental wanderings - for years I was frustrated because during prayer my mind would wander to other, seemingly unrelated, things. Now instead of trying to clear my mind of all that stuff - I use it as a springboard. Maybe God is bringing those things to mind because they are the very things I'm supposed to be praying about. Now when something pops in my head I just go with it. I pray about that thing - give it back to God - try to discern if there are other things I should be praying about in and around that topic- and then move on.
- Listen to God - after doing these first two things I'm usually at a place where I've said what I needed to say out loud to God. I have also followed my mental wanderings wherever they lead. This finally leaves my mind clear and focused. Instead of saying Amen, I stop to listen, and ask God what's next for me. This is the part that gets dangerous because God does speak- we just usually don't stop long enough to listen. He challenges me, encourages me, corrects me, rebukes me, loves me, laughs with me, expresses disappointment in me, pushes me, etc. Then I have to decide whether I will obey or not - but at least there no room to question what God wants - He has made himself clear...
Anything that has been helpful for your prayer life?