Everything about the typical modern life directs us away from personal contemplative practices like prayer, yet prayer is the heartbeat of our life with God. There is no vital relationship with God unless we shape our lives in a counter-cultural way that allows us space and time to pray. And though I cannot tell you exactly how to cultivate that relationship with God (prayer is quite personal and God knows how to speak to you), I can offer you a few suggestions that will help you start to pray.
God is unfailing in his mercy towards us. His faithfulness is not dependent on our faithfulness or, more likely, unfaithfulness. We collaborate with God in this vital relationship of prayer mostly by just showing up in response to his open invitation. Here are a few starter practices that can help you to begin a personal habit of prayer.
Pick a physical location in your daily routine that is conducive to prayer. You may have to intentionally create one. It may be a chair in the corner of your bedroom (turn it to face the corner if you can’t fight the urge to fold your laundry) or a spot on your patio or your cleared desk at work (before you look at your inbox) a few minutes before your workday begins. Having a place where you consistently go over time will cause your mind to move toward “prayer mode” more quickly.
Pick a posture that allows you to be alert to God’s presence. Kneeling comes to mind when we think of prayer but not many people can comfortably pray long on their knees. A good basic position is sitting upright in a chair with both feet flat on the ground, though some people are most present when standing or pacing a little. I knew a woman who had a deep relationship with God through prayer and whenever she sat with her hands open in front of her muscle memory kicked in and she moved directly from distraction to sitting in the presence of God.
When did you last rest in silence? We instinctually feel that silence is an emptiness that should be filled with music or talk or information. But silence is an invitation to listen to God and to allow thoughts we have been suppressing to “bubble up.” I’ve been using this Centering Prayer App for a few years because it keeps me committed to silence for a set period of time. I have been surprised by what can happen in five minutes sitting in silence in the parking lot of my kids preschool or before I walk into the grocery school. Start with a few minutes and work your way up to 10 or more.
If you can’t sit in prayer for more than 20 seconds without your mind taking a dozen different journeys (which happens to everyone) it is important to find a centering word or phrase to draw your mind back. “Come, Lord” and “Abba Father” are common ones but you may feel like “help my unbelief” or “peace be still” is more fitting to your frame of mind. Keep it short so that it can be repeated with a single breath. The goal is to keep yourself present and centered on God.
If you want to pray but don’t know how you and God will pass the time, the practice of examine is a great way to start a conversation. It is a practice of reviewing your day and asking God to show you where God was at work and where you went your own way. Then you ask God to guide you in faithfully dealing with your failings and take you into the next day. I also find that Examine is helpful for me at emotionally high or low times. I use the Reimagining the Examine App anytime, anywhere to help me sort through my disappointment, envy, fear, and even excitement in the presence of God.
Prayers of the Church
We are remarkably ineloquent in prayer, fumbling to put our thoughts and emotions into words. Thankfully, generations of faithful Christians have passed down their words to us which can be a powerful gift when we would like to pray for something specific or be stretched to pray in deeper ways. Take a look at the Occasional Prayers from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and you will find prayers for those who are sick, the stewardship of Creation, an election, various occupations, and more. It is a gift to pray the words of others who give testimony to God who is faithful to his people.
The words of the Bible can jump start a time of prayer. Find a Psalm that speaks to you and begin to read it aloud and then follow with your own response. Or pray the words of a passage of prayer or praise in the New Testament, like one of Paul’s prayers from Ephesians (Eph. 1:15-20; 3:14-21) or one of Jesus’ prayers from the Gospels (Mat. 6:3-13 or John 15:1-17).
Someone told me once that when we pray “Nothing never happens!” Simply start in response to God’s open invitation, even if your prayer is, “Lord, help me to want to pray.”