It seems like a very impersonal thing, I know, but you have to start somewhere. One of the problems when someone starts a new program—be it exercise, dieting, whatever—is they expect to immediately be able to run a marathon or lose 10 pounds the first week. When they don’t, they get disappointed, and they quit. The goal here is not to quit. If you start out slowly and make an effort to simply be consistent, you’ll have a better chance at sticking it out in the long run. When you have your prayer time (early in the day!) set a timer. After a while, you won’t have to, but it will help at first. Try for five minutes the first week. If you go over, that’s OK. Just try to fill up five minutes with prayer. Go for seven the second week; the third week, try for ten. See if you can work up to 15 or 20 minutes at a shot.
Yes, that sounds like a lot of time. Once you’ve started praying and building your relationship with God, soon you’ll be just busting with stuff to tell him during prayer time. You’ll wake up in the morning thinking, “I can't wait to talk to God today!” Granted, there will be some days where you won’t pray for 20 minutes, but there will be some days when you won’t even stop at 30 minutes. The more you and God get to know each other, the more you’ll have to talk about. Speaking of which...
A lot of prayer is us talking to God. But don’t forget that prayer is really a conversation. Sometimes we’re so worried about what we’re going to say next that we forget to listen for God’s reply. If, while writing in your prayer journal, you ask God a question, give him a second to answer. Sometimes he will, sometimes he’ll wait for you to give a little more explanation. If you don’t hear him, ask again another day. Sometimes in my prayer journal, I can hear God so clearly and so frequently during a single prayer that I write it out like a script. Other times, he’s so quiet that I make just a few notes in the margin. I try to have that conversation again when I’m a little more focused or more willing to listen.
God made you, which I’m sure you already know. He likes you. He made you the way you are. You don’t have to use any fancy language or fifty cent words to impress him or to make your prayers more effective. I mean, if your goal for the day is to use “ubiquitous” in a sentence, go ahead and use it in prayer. God gets the joke. And that’s exactly it—God has a sense of humor. Prayer doesn’t have to be serious 100% of the time. It should be sincere and from your heart 100% of the time, but if your heart is light and you’re feeling goofy, tell God why. It’s OK to laugh or cry or whatever during prayer as long as it’s all you and all from the heart. God wants to get to know the real you, just like you should want to know the real him.
By “everything,” I mean everything. Sometimes we only pray for others. We don’t tell him what we need because we think it sounds selfish. Well, maybe you will sound selfish. “God, I want a bigger house and a new car.” That does sound kind of selfish. But if that’s what you're thinking, say it. God knows that’s what you want, anyway. You’re not keeping anything from him by not putting it in your prayers. Don’t tell him in the hopes that he’s going to deliver you the keys to your dream home and car the following day, but tell him in the hopes that he’ll help you sort out those desires, help you figure out why you want what you want, and help turn your heart toward the right things. Only when you admit what’s in your heart can he begin to change it, and that’s what this whole process is: allowing God to change you.
The last item on prayer:
I’m just now learning this lesson, actually. So many times I’ve chickened out on praying for what I really want so I won’t be disappointed when God doesn’t give it to me.
Don’t get me wrong; Santa Claus, he ain’t. But that doesn’t mean he can’t (or won’t) deliver. What’s that verse in James? “You don’t have because you don’t ask.” Sometimes we decide what God can do. We put him in a little box and only let him out when we think he can “handle” what we want. When he’s given us the “right” answers on something before, we’ll give him another go at it. But God can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. So once you decide to tell him everything, make the decision to put some confidence behind your prayers.
A few months ago, I was supposed to have back surgery. I was terrified. Beyond terrified, really. I prayed for God to take my fear. I prayed harder than I’d ever prayed before. And he actually took the surgery away. My surgeon cancelled it because I was sick. Crazy, right? But God answered in a big way. For some reason, that answer gave me confidence to pray more boldly. My surgery was rescheduled for a month later. My husband and I (and some of our prayer warrior friends) started praying for complete healing. For the first time, I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t doubt. I thought, “God can do this!”
And he did.
Now, I don’t know what my back looks like right now. I haven’t had another MRI or x-ray. But I can tell you that I have no pain—none—and all the symptoms that prompted my surgeon to suggest I go under the knife are gone. Gone. And I know in my heart that it’s because I prayed with confidence. I prayed without that nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “What if he doesn’t do it? What if I’m disappointed? Maybe I should be praying for something else.” I’m telling you, praying with total confidence enables God to work in ways you never thought possible.
The main thing is just to pray. Get it into your schedule and get it done. At first, it will seem like a chore, and while that’s not how it should be, it’ll get you to a place where the more you pray, the more you’ll want to pray. It’s true! Just ask God. Right now is a great time. In fact, anytime is a great time, really. He’s on the line 24/7. Go, Future Prayer Warrior! Go!