“Sometimes I wonder if God is secretly thinking, ‘Dear Child, you are welcome for this day and I already blessed the food. Can we talk about something else now?'” – Anonymous
I once saw a skit that followed a day in the life of a young Christian. Throughout the day—when he got out of bed, before meals, before bed, etc.—the man got on his knees to pray. Every time this happened Jesus would enter and stand next to the young man, eager and excited to talk. But the kneeling man never noticed Jesus standing right next to him. Why not? He was too busy praying, parroting words and phrases that had long since lost their meaning. Jesus tried getting the Christian’s attention and faithfully appeared each time the man knelt to pray, but they never really connected or even truly communicated.
Is this prayer? I think many people would guiltily agree that this pretty much sums up what prayer looks like in their actual lives. We know prayer is meant to be wonderful, powerful, and transformative, but there is a massive divide between theory and practice. Imagine being married but only ever communicating with your spouse via text. There would be little life in the relationship because all interactions would be limited, simple, one-dimensional, peripheral, and brief. This is a picture of the sad reality many Christians experience (or don’t) when it comes to communicating with God. Thinking back on my own prayer journey you would have thought I was an auctioneer the way I “talked” to God:
Dear God thank you for this day please keep grandma and grandpa safe as they fly to Florida and bless this food to my body in Jesus’ name amen.
But son, I want you to know there is so much more.
To be honest, I don’t really have any awesome advice to get you from point A to B in what might be called your “prayer life”. I don’t have 5 simple steps to achieving deeper communication with God or 10 helpful hints to get you praying like Mother Teresa. Because really, there is no such thing as “improving your prayer life” apart from cultivating and nurturing a dynamic relationship with God. Like all other relationships, the depth and tone of conversation is merely a reflection of the relationship itself. Listen in on a conversation between teenagers on a first date—the communication will probably be forced and awkward because the relationship is just beginning.
This means that prayer is more than folding your hands and closing your eyes before you eat; it is an awareness that the place where you’re standing is holy ground and you had better take off your sandals, it is an attentiveness to the fellowship of the Spirit even on a mundane Tuesday, it is a responsiveness to the company of the Living God who seeks to take up residence in your everyday life, it is what Brother Lawrence called “The practice the presence of God.” Walking this path is like walking in the very heart of God.
And yes, son, like all other Christian practices prayer often requires discipline before it becomes delight, but you must know that the heart of prayer is accepting Christ’s own blood as the invitation to enter the sacred fellowship of the Trinity, the Holy Wellspring of Joy and Life from which Creation sprang into existence. When you understand the gravity of this gift you may very well only be able to pray, “Dear God!” But when you say those two little words, and mean them both with all your heart, you will have learned what it means to pray.