Somewhere near the top of the list of questions that send most conversations amongst Christians into a tailspin is this one: “So, how’s your prayer life?”
I’ve heard it asked in counseling settings when all the issues have been brought out onto the table.
“He did this, then she said that…”
“Well, yeah. But how’s your prayer life?”
Cue the bewilderment.
It’s been asked of me in particular seasons of frustration and in the midst of feelings of despair: “Man, that sounds really tough. Hey, how’s your prayer life?”
I even had one friend who would reframe that age-old question. He’d ask me, “Mike, what have you been saying to God when you pray?” He refused to allow the easy out of an over-simplified, uber-spiritualized answer. He wanted to know the content of the conversations I was having with God and it wasn’t because he was meddlesome or looking to cause trouble. He was out for my good and he knew that any good I’d experienced was almost always directly correlated to the quality of my prayer life and to the specifics therein.
A member at a church where I was previously on staff approached me one day to share some good news. His prayer life had been “revolutionized.” I don’t need to overstate things here, other than to say, when something has been revolutionized within close proximity to me, I’m all ears.
My friend went on to tell me about his recent frustrations with the way things were going at work and home. He told me he’d been feeling a little down about his involvement within our congregation and he was a little regretful that he hadn’t shared his faith in quite some time. I nodded along, waiting for the big turn. He told me he often had long rides between job sites and, out of habit, he’d been vocalizing those frustrations on his drives. I thought it to be an okay way to relieve some stress and mentioned it probably felt a little weird. He agreed, then his eyes widened, “But that’s just it. It was really weird until recently. I realized I hadn’t been praying much, so I just started praying on those rides instead.” I asked him what he had been praying and he replied, “Well, I basically just say the same exact things as I was saying before. But only now, I stop myself and I say ‘Dear God’ before I start talking.”
This is no indictment of my friend’s oversimplified version of prayer, though I think its probably worthy of some critique. My response is more like one of those pursed-lips, head-nodding, have-to-say “Hm” kind of responses. When my brother uttered his “Dear God,” a thousand gears began turning in his relationship with the God to whom he was praying. And it all began with a simple acknowledgement of who it was he was actually praying to.
A problem many of us face in the moment we’re praying is that, if we were to pay close attention, we’d likely catch ourselves mentally processing our joys and frustrations, rather than remaining present in prayer and sharing these things with God, praising him for his faithfulness and asking him to reveal the ways in which we aren’t trusting him as we ought.
Where does the wayward mind truly go when it comes time to pray? It’s hard to say. Maybe we’ve complicated the whole thing and err on the side of saying too much. Jesus said it’s not really about the perceived greatness of our oratory performance when it comes to beseeching the Father. Or, maybe we’re somewhere on the opposite end of the spectrum – we don’t have much to say at all. Perhaps we come before God less desperate – less needy – than we ought to, not fully realizing how insufficient we are for not just immediate tasks, but insufficient in most every role we’re placed in. Isn’t this where we find David as he’s praying in Psalm 86? “Incline Your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am oppressed and need.” Perhaps it’s even recognition of this need that puts us at a loss for words. There will be times we just won’t know what to say and, with our noses pressed firmly into tear-stained carpet, we’ll ask the Lord, even beg the Lord, “Help?”
And, if we’re honest, there will be times our prayer life is simply marked by conversations with God had while driving down the road in which we say “Dear God” and proceed to unload our frustrations on him.
We can be confident that in any of these moments, we have the listening ear of a gracious and loving God who may, in fact, delight in prayers chock full of “justs” and “Lords” and “Dear Gods.” Christian, never take for granted the fact that you have an embarrassing amount of access to the God of all creation through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When you’ve somewhat gotten over the fact that this God is the one to whom you’re praying – then, as simply as you can manage, pray: “Dear God…”