“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Knowing that it’s not where you want it to be or where it should be, tell me about your prayer life.” Those were the words from my current pastor as we sat down to meet one on one before this church extended to me a call to come and be a part of their leadership team. I remember being caught off guard a little, because I first wanted to reply, “How do you know it’s not?!” The honest truth, though, is that statement is likely true for each and every one of us. No matter how much time you might be devoting to prayer on a daily basis, why do you stop where you do? No matter the depth of the conversations you are having with the Father, why not go deeper? If you prayed for ten people in your congregation this morning, why didn’t you pray for eleven? You could just keep going, right?
We would all agree that prayer is an essential part of following Jesus. He was specific when talking to his followers: “When you pray…” meaning it was never a question of if his followers should pray, but what that prayer life would look like. So, why would my pastor know to preface his question about my prayer life with that statement? Why do so many people who are faithful attenders, faithful ministry leaders, faithful teachers, etc. struggle to articulate the depth of their prayer life?
We are familiar with Jesus’ further instructions in Matthew 6:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (And then us protestants add, “for yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen.)
So, the problem for most isn’t knowing what to pray. Jesus gave us a model, and on some level, most of our prayers offer some variation of the subjects He mentioned. We know to pray for God’s kingdom to be made known through missions and other ministry efforts. Our denomination publishes missionary birthdays so while they are serving on the field, they are remembered by name each year. We pray for the needs of others as well as ourselves. We intercede for others who might be struggling with a particular sin. We pray for the salvation of those who do not yet know Jesus. All of these are good things. Every single one of them. But why am I still left thinking there is something more?
This past year, I was encouraged to pick up a book on prayer by Paul Miller, A Praying Life , and the author suggests that one of the keys to figuring out our prayer lives relates to our posture before God. Miller points out that we must approach the Father as a child. Drawing on his own experience as a father, he reminds us that little children are bold, demanding, persistent and confident when making requests of their parents. They are also aware (while maybe not from an intellectual approach) that they are completely at the mercy of mom or dad to provide them what they want. They are helpless. Miller writes, “God wants us to come to him empty-handed, weary, and heavy-laden. Instinctively we want to get rid of our helplessness before we come to God.” (Miller, 42)
I believe Miller is on to something here. The tension we feel in that assessment of our prayer lives is not something that can be quantifiably measured, but is found in our daily state of mind before the Father. It is found in a posture not measured by the number of words spoken, but of an awareness of the proximity of the Father. Rather than boast of x number of minutes on my knees each morning which can dangerously lead to a “look at me” attitude about my spirituality, the stronger statement I need to make each day is “I am helpless and completely dependent on God today.” This mindset can establish a daily posture–as we face temptation or challenges at work or questions about the direction of our ministries–which leads us to truly “trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding.”
Putting Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians into practice now looks like this:
I am helpless today, but I am walking with my Father every step. I am dependent on Him, and I am yielding my will to His will today. I cannot help but rejoice that He is with me in every circumstance I face. He will be part of every decision I make today, every response I have to situations that arise, and will guide my words and thoughts. My life and words will reflect my gratitude.
The next time I am asked about my prayer life, my hope is that I will be able to reflect on an ongoing season of life that reflects this attitude. What more can I hope to attain?
This post originally appeared at: A Disciple is Prayerful — The Bonhoeffer Project