Blog 365 · Whispers of Faith

5 Ways to a More Captivating Prayer Life {Part 1 of 5}

This last spring, I had the privilege of leading a seminar at our college spring retreat on prayer. When I first started thinking about what I wanted to talk about for that seminar, the focus of prayer came to mind – not because I felt like an expert, but because I didn’t feel like an expert, and I wanted to grow and change in my own prayer life – and share that learning process with others. My aim for that seminar was definitely not to prove what an amazing prayer warrior I am, for I quite often feel the opposite of that. But I hoped that through the study and the discussion of prayer with others that I could humbly be challenged in my prayer life to become stronger and more focused on the One to Whom I was praying. And by the grace of God that was the journey I started on, and that is the journey He has continued to lead me on throughout this year.

A Brief History …
I was taught to pray when I was a child by my parents and various other people in Sunday School and AWANA. The most common way was through the ACTS acronym – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. I had prayer sheets and lists of people to pray for, and I would dutifully fill out the prayer sheets and pray through the acronym every day after reading my Bible.

While this is an excellent way to remember all aspects that our prayers should cover, unfortunately I – being the rule-following child that I was – turned it into more of a rote requirement. I would actually feel guilty if I skipped a part of the acronym or if I prayed for others before I had confessed my sins. I would sit at the end of the day and try to remember every sin I had committed so that I could confess it so that God would hear the other parts of my prayer.

This clearly was the result of man-made rules and self-inflicted guilt, which I finally realized when I got older. I eventually broke out of the trap of thinking I had to stick to a formula in my prayers and learned that God is most pleased when we simply bring Him our hearts – our hurts, our joys, our gratitude, our burdens, and our pleas to be made more like Him.

But one thing I realized at the beginning of this year was that I had become much too lax in my discipline of prayer. In my morning devotions, I would spend ample time reading and journaling about Scripture, but then I’d look at the clock and realize I only had a couple minutes left before I had to get ready to go so I’d hurry through my prayers, hastily praying for the next couple of people on my list … not realizing that I was forfeiting one of the most important parts of my quiet time – communicating with my Creator.

So I challenged myself to commit to just 10 minutes of prayer in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening – which doesn’t sound like a lot, but believe me, when you’ve been praying for about 2 minutes and you start timing yourself to pray longer – 10 minutes at first seems like quite a long time! Additionally, I decided to turn the focus of my prayer back to where it needed to be – in adoring and worshiping my Creator – so I’d spend 5 minutes of my prayer in that regard and 5 minutes in supplication for myself and others.

And as I did that, I began to realize that the purpose of prayer is not to get what I want … but to let my heart by captivated by the One to whom I was praying. And from that realization, came these thoughts (and for the sake of brevity on the blog, they will be spread out over five days):

I. Choosing the Discipline of Prayer
As I mentioned a bit earlier, prayer should never become a rote or a ritual that we feel we simply need to check off of a list. But if we don’t choose to make it a discipline, then we will never grow in our prayer lives at all.

Discipline is simply this: it is intentional, it is sacrificial, and it is consistent.

Intentional means that we are scheduling a time for it – we are penciling it in to our calendars, allotting a certain amount of time for it, and making it a priority in our lives. Jesus set a great example of this in the Gospels –

Matthew 14:23 says, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.”

Mark 1:35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Luke 5:15-16 says, “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

If the Son of God himself made it a priority to pray often, then how much more should we – faulty, frail, and fallible humans – make it a top priority in our day to be communicating with our Heavenly Father?

Sacrificial means that we give up other comforts to make it happen. For me, that means sacrificing sleep to make time for prayer. Obviously I still need to take care of my physical body in getting enough sleep, but I need to learn to get up just a little bit earlier and set my bedtime a little earlier so that I have enough time to come before the Lord. I have found that by making these small sacrifices, it sets my day off to a better tone, it gives me more restful sleep, and overall reminds me that my time is not simply my own to waste as I please.

It’s like the Levites who offered sacrifices in the morning and in the evening – now under the New Covenant, our sacrifice is prayer and thanksgiving. What we will choose to give up or give less of our time to in order to make prayer a priority?

Consistent means that I do it even when I don’t feel like it until it becomes a habit ingrained into my soul. Usually when I don’t feel like it, I have some sin hindrance that’s keeping me from desiring time in God’s presence – be that a sin struggle or simply the sin of my own apathy and selfishness. But I’ve found when I force myself to bow down and worship anyway (sometimes physically!), He starts melting away my selfish resistance and wooing my heart once again. I don’t always win this battle. Sometimes I choose to slip into my covers and lay my head down on my pillow while I’m praying (we all know how well that works for discipline!), but He’s teaching me how to be consistent, no matter how roguish my heart wants to be.

And the more consistent one becomes in a habit, pretty soon you can’t imagine your daily routine without it. Instead of it feeling unnatural to spend that time in focused prayer, you start to feel that it would be unnatural not to do so.

When we choose the discipline of prayer, we are making a conscious decision to take action towards growing closer to God. Prayer doesn’t just magically happen by wishing it into your life. Prayer is our choice to communicate our love, praise, and worship back to God. If we are choosing not to spend our time doing this, we are choosing to love other things more than our Creator. We are choosing to trust ourselves instead of the One who gives us life and breath. We are choosing to continue struggling in our strength and failing when it comes to confronting sin.

Prayer really isn’t for God’s benefit – it’s for our own benefit – to tune our hearts more toward the Creator’s heart. And the first step in that tuning is creating a disciplined lifestyle of constant prayer.

To be continued …

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