I Stink at Prayer and So Can You
by Christopher Hunt
When it comes to prayer, I confess a general lack of discipline, consistency, and focus. During long, group prayer sessions or even my own private prayer times, I’m easily distracted, apt to daydream, and might even doze off. If I commit to pray for someone, I better do it right away; I’m liable to forget. I would’ve been right there with Peter, John, and James snoozing in the garden of Gethsemane while the Lord sweated blood in prayer just a few paces away (Luke 22:39-46). If any of this sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. More than that, take heart, God is for you. We can’t pray enough, or read the Bible enough, to earn God’s love. He favors us because he’s God and his Son died and rose again so we can be in direct relationship with him. That’s what prayer is all about: growing closer to God, communicating our love for him, acknowledging our dependence on him, and hearing his voice.
I feel relieved and liberated knowing that God loves me no matter how undisciplined I am in prayer. Yet, Jesus’ admonition to his disciples in the garden, “Pray so that you will not fall into temptation,'' shows us the serious nature of prayer. Prayer is also about accessing God’s power to resist sin and invite the Holy Spirit to do his work. In a mystery this article won’t even attempt to unpack, the Holy Spirit breathes power into our prayers that they may bear good fruit. While we can’t pray hard enough or long enough to compel God or earn his favor, God blesses us as we grow in our spiritual disciplines. If we pursue God in earnest prayer, whether we pray for 30 minutes every day or 30 times a day for one minute, God nurtures our commitment to prayer.
If you’re like me and feel you lack commitment, discipline, and focus in prayer, here are few suggestions to help you pray with confidence.
Small prayers matter
You’ve heard the term “popcorn” prayer, usually a pejorative reference to a quick prayer popped off in a sentence or two. This moniker undervalues some of our most earnest prayers, the ones offered in a few words in the immediacy of the moment. Rather we should call these “prayer pearls,” because God values them. Someone crosses your mind and the Spirit moves you to offer a prayer pearl for them. You’re in a conflict with a loved one and throw up a little pearl asking God to be there with you. A temptation is nagging you to give in, you breathe a prayer for strength to remain steadfast. These prayer pearls let you respond in prayer right away to whatever is happening in your day without a lot of focus or concentration. They are also a good way “to pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Instead of feeling inadequate, embrace these small prayers. They matter to God.
Need to focus? Pray from Scripture
At times when I really need to be focused in prayer, I’ll pray from scripture. God’s own words give your prayers direction and authority. Praying a psalm or particular passage from the Bible will help keep you on task and give your prayer a natural end point. When I really want God to go to battle for someone, I pray Psalm 35, replacing the personal pronouns with that person’s name. I’m not concerned about how well that psalm fits directly with the situation; I trust the Holy Spirit to do that. I can ask God to show me where to pray from his Word. I’m always amazed at how relevant the passage often seems. Do you feel disconnected from God? Pray Psalm 22. Want to pray for someone’s faith? Pray Ephesians 1:17-23 or Ephesians 3:14-21. Need to get centered on Jesus? Try praying Colossians 3:1-17. Want to confess your sins and need for salvation? Pray the words from Romans 7:21-8:2. If you need an adjustable lens to help you focus in prayer, there’s no better lens than God’s own Word.
Ask God for power to persevere
In some ways, the lack of discipline or focus tests our commitment to prayer. The book of James opens with an encouragement that the testing of our faith produces perseverance. “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:4-5). Through Jesus Christ we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16) and “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” let our requests be made known to God through prayer (Philippians 4:6). We have this wonderful assurance that God is truly for us in our quest to persevere in prayer. We need only ask (Matthew 7:7-8).
I originally intended to give this article a more strongly worded title to show how seriously I feel about my lack of focus, consistency, and discipline in prayer. I thought better of it. In any case, you might feel the same way. God values our smallest prayers and gives us unlimited access to his own words for when we need help staying on track. He doesn’t love anyone more because they pray more. God doesn’t keep any record of our failures. He invites us to seek him and walk with him to grow and mature in his wonderful gift of prayer.
Did you find this article helpful? We’ve put together a short ebook called “How Do I Pray?”, which introduces six ways to reinvigorate your prayer life. Download it free right here.