I gave up “trying” to pray daily many years ago. I discovered that if I did not build praying into my routine I routinely replaced it with lesser priorities.
Willpower does not account for my faithfulness. My will is not strong enough to get me to resist a slice of carrot cake let alone to get me on my knees every morning. Only by grace have I been able to persevere. I am convinced that the Lord is so determined to communicate with us that he lovingly woos us till we give in and start praying daily.
Our prayer doesn’t always flow freely, because obstacles cross our paths. Among these are distractions, dryness and doubts. I believe God allows these hindrances to give us opportunities to grow in faithfulness. With his grace, dealing with obstacles will mature us as pray-ers and strengthen us as followers of Christ.
Distractions used to frustrate me. But with grace and effort I have learned how to set some distractions aside and to use others to enhance my prayer.
When an idle thought pops up, something like the clever resolution of a mystery I just read, I immediately turn from it and back to the Lord. If a family or business matter demands attention, I make a note and set it aside. When I believe a thought that distracts me comes from the Holy Spirit I take time to pray about it. “Lord,” I might say, “please heal the cause of Sam’s back pain so he can get back to work.” I accept such interruptions as little gifts of the Spirit that allow me to pray in accord with God’s heart. In these ways I turn distractions into prayer enhancers.
On rare occasions I enjoy a sense of God’s presence that takes my breath away. At other times my prayer goes dry, and I feel disconnected from him. I don’t pay much attention to either extreme. I don’t pursue the joyous moments, trying to make them last. Nor do I worry about the dry times. I take them in stride and keep on praying. Just as I don’t believe in writer’s block, which I regard as an excuse for my not thinking through things, I also don’t believe in pray-er’s block. I cherish the faithful example of Mother Teresa, who experienced Jesus’ loving closeness when he called her to found the Missionaries of Charity, but then was in profound spiritual darkness for virtually the last half century of her life. Nevertheless, despite her interior dryness she prayed for two hours every day.
So I keep in mind that intimacy with God does not only mean feeling close to God or being attracted to him. If I don’t feel like praying, I do it anyway, professing my love and obedience as a disciple. The dryness does not magi-cally disappear, but I know that the Lord draws near.
A severe case of doubt once stopped me from praying for the better part of a year. I doubted that God listened to my prayers or that he even cared for me, so I cut off communication with him. It took the prayers and interventions of my wife and friends to get me back on track. That dark experience had a bright side. The misery it caused me inoculated me against recurrences of doubting God when things have hit bottom since. Dealing with doubt involves identifying its cause and applying appropriate antidotes. Here are some sources of doubt and prescriptions for handling it.
When we have asked God to heal us or resolve some difficulty and nothing seems to happen, we may think that he doesn’t listen to prayer or even that he doesn’t care. To counteract doubt rooted in unanswered prayer, we must balance our expectations with trust. We must trust that whatever God does or does not do for us will be most loving, merciful and just. We know that he hears our prayers but may delay his answer, just as he heard Christ’s plea at Gethsemane, but answered it only after his passion at the Resurrection.
When bad things happen to us, we are tempted to blame God and react with doubts about his love for us. My friend George Cope, the pastor of Calvary Assembly in Winter Park, Fla., says that when we are hurting, we should ask “What?” not “Why?” He explains that God does not cause evil things, but he may allow them as occasions of grace. When something bad hits us, we must ask, “What good will God bring out of it?” Expecting the Lord to transform the bad things that happen to us will not eliminate the pain. Staying connected to him in prayer, however, will give us the strength to get through it.
St. John of the Cross suggested in his books that God may allow pray-ers to experience periods of darkness to accomplish something in them that cannot be achieved in any other manner. Some great saints felt abandoned by God for many years and in their agony came to be mirrors of Christ in their character and service. They bore their suffering, knowing that Jesus himself suffered with them and supported them. If darkness engulfs us, we, too, can count on the Lord to accompany us, support us and give us the grace to serve others with love.
Strengthened in faith
I have learned to take some steps to help me stay faithful to daily prayer. I want to be prepared to deal with distractions, dryness or doubts when they come. So I strengthen my heart for fidelity by modeling my prayer on themes that weave through the psalms. As I pray psalms such as Psalm 105, for example, I take time to perform the actions proclaimed. I remember all the wonders the Lord has done for me. I thank him for everything, especially forgiveness. I call on his name and glory in it by meditating on the Sign of the Cross. I do these things at prayer every morning, and I’m convinced they assure my faithfulness.
Bert Ghezzi writes from Florida. This article is adapted from his most recent book, “Adventures in Daily Prayer” (Brazos Press, $17.99), and is used with permission from Baker Publishing Group.Devotion.
Author Q & A (sidebar)
In this interview courtesy of Baker Publishing Group, Bert Ghezzi, the author of “Adventures in Daily Prayer” (Brazos Press, $17.99), discusses how to make prayer a daily priority.
You say in your book, “all prayer rises up in us as God’s gift.” What do you mean by this exactly? How so?
Prayer is communicating with God, and we tend to think that we have to work at getting in touch with him. But this is a mistaken view.
God loves us and created us to enjoy a relationship with him as daughters and sons. So he initiates conversations with us. He gently invites us to receive this gift of communicating with him. And we receive this gift of prayer by opening our hearts to him.
I frequently begin my prayer time in quiet and allow the Lord to suggest in my thoughts a theme, a Scripture or a hymn that he wants me to reflect on as a lead into our conversation.
Why should people pray, or pray daily for that matter?
Christianity is the marvelous story of God’s action to unite humankind with himself. The great hero of this story is Christ himself who became a man so that he could arrange for us to share God’s own life. We are caught up in that story that gives definition and purpose to our lives. So prayer gives us the opportunity to freely choose to embrace our role in God’s grand scheme of salvation. We pray daily because each morning (or evening) we want to renew our commitment to work with him to bring new life to all and everything in our world.
How can people with busy and hectic schedules prioritize daily prayer? What advice would you give someone struggling to accommodate daily prayer in her life?
We must eat to live, so we do not find it difficult every day to make meals a priority or to find time to eat. We also must pray to live, and if we do not, we will experience a spiritual deadness. We must see prayer as an essential to Christian living, not as an optional extra.
We should determine what part of the day is our prime time and find a way to devote part of it to communicating with God.