I’ve been reflecting on prayer. Mainly because over the past year, the way my prayer life has looked has changed significantly.
I used to be someone who prayed according to the traditional understanding — speaking to God on behalf of myself and others for his praise and glory — all of the time. Literally, I would walk around praying. I’d see an ambulance and whisper a prayer for the person inside. I would pray verbally for everything and anything. This went on for years and my relationship with God was vibrant. And then I started college.
In college, my prayer life went down the drain … or so I thought. I didn’t often pray verbally, most of my prayer time was done in bed or in the shower. I felt like this was dangerous and could have really negative effects on my spiritual life, so I often locked myself in a closet in our dormitory and got on my knees and tried my hardest to pray for hours. Low and behold, 10 mins later I was walking out of the closet feeling defeated. This should have been a big red flag to me — but it wasn’t.
Over the next two years, I would struggle spiritually, feeling badly and wondering why I couldn’t bring myself to pray for long periods of time. Was I a bad Christian? I began to think that God must be far from me because I couldn’t pray like every other “spiritual giant”. I remember hearing stories all kinds of different Saints throughout history who have been “men and women of prayer”. People who prayed for hours on ends and get profound spiritual fulfillment and insight. Why couldn’t I be like them? What was wrong with me?
Over the semester breaks you have a lot of time to think. I have spent the last year trying to embrace contemplation and prayer and I have finally realized that I needed to stop. It wasn’t me. Some people are contemplatives. Some are not. Some are Charismatic, like me. Some people feel deeply connected to the Spirit of God through prayer retreats and liturgy. Others feel connected to God in singing or dancing. Some are connected to God through writing or painting. Others are connected through legal work. Or cooking. Or removing wisdom teeth. Do you see what I am getting at?
First, I realized that I had made “traditional prayer” a ritual by which I believed I earned God’s favor. If I didn’t pray, God was angry and distant. When I did, God gave me favor and forgiveness. The same thing could be said about the way I used to approach personal Bible reading.
This thinking is dangerous and can destroy your faith.
Our position before God is not dependent on our ability to pray on our knees, read the Bible for hours, or any other spiritual discipline. Certainly, our lives can be enhanced and our relationship with God can grow in depth — meaning that we experience God in a more personal or powerful way. But God is not more in love or more inclined to bless us because we pray. That is legalism. That is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus.
But the bigger revelation I discovered is that prayer is really complex. I recently was chatting with a friend who told me he was studying prayer and I asked him why. I told him prayer was simple, easy, and didn’t merit his study time. I was wrong. Prayer is complex not in how it works or what it accomplishes. It is complex because it can be done in so many ways. I recently heard a Christian speaker talk about his prayer life. He said “I try to live my life as a prayer”. At first, I was perplexed. How do you live your life as a prayer? But then it hit me — this is exactly how I was trying to live.
Any basic communications class will teach you that everything we do is communication. Every facial expression, body posture, thought, word, and action is communicating something. We can never stop communicating. And if this applies to human interactions, doesn’t it apply to our interaction with God as well? We know God is omnipresent — he knows all and is in all. In him all things have their being. This means that every thought, intention, word, and action are seen by God and communicate to God. Everything we do is received by God as a prayer. Every time you enjoy food, laugh at a movie, or are filled with joy when you give a gift to someone- that is prayer. Every time we are moved with love or compassion for another human, every time we are anxious or scared, every time we doubt. We are praying. That emotion is seen and received by God. Every thought of our heart is heard by God. Those that are marked by love and righteousness, they are pleasing savors to God. Every sinful thought rises to heaven as a sign of our rebellion to God and is met by the mercy and grace that comes through being redeemed by the cross of Christ.
Prayer is much more than getting on your knees and talking to God. I am not good at that. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. There is much benifit in doing the things we aren’t good at. Sad as it is for me, I am simply not a contemplative person. And yet, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t engage in contemplation every now and then.
What it does mean is that in the vastness of my life, I should find ways to communicate with God that are natural to me. That he has wired me for.
For me, writing is prayer. I also love to worship God in music. Those are the times I have my deepest communion with the Lord. Its not with verbal words usually. Its with thoughts. Its with the ideas I write. These are my ways of praying.
But we also must realize that everything we do, we are praying. It isn’t merely an activity to engage in. No, it is something that we are. We are always praying. We are always communicating with God. And I believe God is always communicating to us his beauty, glory, and love for us. Life is prayer.Every human being is praying all the time. We cannot cease praying. And praise God for that. For the reality of being seen by God and being constantly in communion and communication with the Lord of the Universe who watches us with love- what could be more comforting? What could be more invigorating? What could be more motivating for me to live my life for His glory?
Father Gilbert Shaw, a Catholic Mystic says about this idea:
The purpose of living is not to learn to make prayer,
but to become prayer; to live in and for God
according to the divine call, wholly surrendered to
the Spirit’s activity in the soul for the glory of God.
Life is prayer. So today, if you are struggling, like me, to get on your knees and speak to God, take heart. God hears your life. He sees your needs. He receives your communication in everything you do. Posture your actions, your heart, your thoughts, and your lips to be about the work of God and the glory of God. Embrace that. Live your life as a sacrificial prayer to the glory of Jesus. Because he is faithful to hear you, answer you, and commune with you. Not only in a prayer closet, but in every breath, step, thought, and deed.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.
(Romans 12:1 NIV)
BRANDAN ROBERTSON is a blogger, podcaster, aspiring minister, and the dreamer behind the Revangelical Movement. Brandan is a Pastoral Ministry/Theology student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. In 2011, Brandan took to the air waves by creating a radio show, then called The Bridge which transformed into what is today The Revangelical Connection. Though no longer on the radio, this audio/video podcast seeks to connect with Christian leaders from across the spectrum of faith to begin working towards a better Christianity. Brandan is a contributor to Red Letter Christians, Patheos Book Club, The Christian Manifesto, and several other well-read blogs around the net. Brandan is an aspiring author and church planter/pastor. In all of this, his desire is to see the kingdom of God come and the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven, for the glory of Jesus and the good of all of creation. Find out more about Brandan by checking his information site, or stay up to date with his writings on The Revangelical Blog. You can also track his latest posts on Facebook.