My Pastor recently called our church to become people given more to prayer in 2017. His exhortation was to persistently, consistently give ourselves to prayer for just one thing. He had made it easy even...just focus on one particular thing. It was a biblical, encouraging message, yet as I mused over it I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deva vu…and a bit of dread. How many times over the course of my Christian life have I heard this same message, set myself to pray hard—even prayed hard for a time—then gradually let my schedule make me too busy for prayer time? How often have I found myself believing in prayer, yet not really praying? How do I move a call to prayer from a nice-sounding New Year’s resolution to a vital, life-giving, daily part of my life?
Prayer changed for me when I noticed that my prayer life was most consistent (and the most satisfying) during seasons when I enjoyed a particular closeness to Jesus. Which makes sense, for we tend to talk to our friends. We tell how our day has been. We share our joys and sorrows. We listen. We ask for help with our challenges. At its most basic, prayer is conversation with God, so prayer is most natural, most likely when I remember that God is a real person. He thinks and feels, sees and hears. He's not a cold, ethereal being, far, far away who bends near with Sunday School countenance to listen politely to my list of requests. Among all the things Jesus is, He is my friend. But that natural conversation is harder to maintain when the friend is invisible.
What helps is recalling what Jesus has said about me and my relationship with Him. He calls me His child, His beloved, His own. I am forgiven, chosen, and delighted in. I am His bride; He watches over me with a jealousy based not on selfishness but the right of a husband to protect his wife, guarding her affections. His wisdom is always perfect, His direction inerrant. His love is constant and complete. My relationship with Him cannot fail because it is based on His faithfulness, not mine (hallelujah!). His gentleness is never in conflict with His fierce anger at sin, or His just determination to burn away everything I've let come between us. He is my faithful shepherd, my tender guardian, my diligent protector, my greatest good. He says I am the treasure He came to Earth to redeem. I was the joy set before Him as He endured the horrible cross. My determination to hold onto Him is but dust on the balance compared to His promise never to let me go. When my mind is related rightly to Jesus, engaging in prayer becomes as natural as breathing and as necessary as air.
But knowing this does not mean I always put it into practice. I can become preoccupied with my life, growing too busy to spend time with Jesus. Then as my desire for Him cools, I 'forget' to talk to Him. I find myself guiltily throwing prayers up as I go, knowing I'm supposed to pray. I feel ashamed and begin to avoid my friend, thinking that He must be irritated with me. But I resist saying, "sorry," out of a misperception. Jesus is not angry with me—He knows in advance my every failure, fall, and outright rebellion. He is not surprised. Like the father of the prodigal, He waits with open arms for me to come to my senses and return to Him.
So my resolution for this year is to stop beating myself up over needing to pray. Instead I resolve to wait quietly for my Master, meditating on His beauty and perfection, basking in His love, and listening for His voice. I resolve to repent quickly when I find myself feeling distant from Jesus, confident that as I draw near to Him, He will draw near to me. His presence will spark a fire that illuminates and warms my heart, drawing me back to conversation with Him. He is not disappointed—or surprised—when I fail, but eagerly waits for me to come to Him for restoration. He longs for my company because He loves me. To be a person of prayer is to be a person actively seeking friendship with God. So I resolve to open myself, allowing Him to woo me into spending more time with Him, listening for His heart and telling him the secrets of mine. How lovely is that?
"You make me know the path of life;
in your presence is unbounded joy,