Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 98
I love that definition! It’s short, and it reminds us that there are various kinds of prayer. Sometimes our prayers are petitions, where we request from God the things we want or need. Other prayers are confessions, where we give God the burden of our sin and receive his forgiveness. Still others are simply prayers of praise, times when we get lost in worship as we meditate on God’s goodness. Prayer is one of the primary ways we can experience God’s grace in our lives.
But if you’re like me, you don’t always feel like praying. Jesus has given us a direct line to the Father in prayer, yet many of us struggle to pick up the phone. When at last we do sit down for a time of focused prayer, the words evade us, or we’re interrupted by some distraction!
Here are three strategies I’ve found helpful when I have a hard time praying:
First, if you don’t have a prayer journal, get one!
There are many benefits to this, but I’ll just highlight a couple:
1. Writing your prayers will help you keep your train of thought while praying. Have you ever sat down trying to pray and halfway through forgot what you were talking to God about? It’s happened to me! I’ve found that writing my prayers helps me stay focused—to get from “Dear Lord” to “Amen!” without being interrupted by my thoughts.
2. Your prayer journal can become a monument reminding you of God’s faithfulness in your life. I love looking back on old “prayer entries” that I had completely forgotten about and being struck by the realization that God had answered a specific prayer I didn’t even remember making. We sometimes forget our prayers, but God doesn’t. A prayer journal will remind you of that.
Second, don’t just rely on your own prayers.
The fact of the matter is, oftentimes you’re going to show up to your prayer closet completely empty. You might have the time to pray, but you just don’t have the words. Rather than only praying when you feel like you have something to say, I’ve found that using the written prayers of others can result in a very rich time of communion with God. The Valley of Vision is a great little book of Puritan prayers that I know many have benefited from. We also have an entire book of prayers in the Bible known as the Psalms. The Psalms contain prayers for every season. Some are laments, for those times where God seems distant, or you feel crushed by sin. Others are hymns of praise for when you can’t contain your joy over God’s greatness. Don’t underestimate the value of using the prayers that other godly men and women have written down!
Third, spend some time reading the Bible.
When you feel like you don’t have anything to say to God, let him speak first! I’ve had many a case of “prayer block” cured by reading Scripture. As I open and study it, I find myself responding to God’s speech: confessing sin when I’m convicted, praising him when I’m awestruck, or even asking him for understanding when I’m confused. Take your Bible with you into the prayer closet so that when you find yourself with nothing to say, you can meditate on a few verses of Scripture and let the word create the response of prayer in your heart.