My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. ~ Job 42:5
Sometimes I wonder if the real problem with the church is that it is filled with people whose primary relationship with God is through what they have heard, thought and believed about him rather than with God himself. People are sometimes startled to hear me say it, but the truth is that if you have no real prayer life, you also have no real relationship with God. It may be harsh to some ears, but it’s the truth. You may know of God, but that’s not the same thing as actually knowing him.
This is true even if you spend all your waking hours thinking, reading and talking about God, theology and the like. That’s like reading many biographies and documentaries about Ben Franklin and declaring him my BFF. I may know your name, address and phone number and have stalked you from behind bushes to figure out your daily schedule and rifled through your trash to figure out what you eat – that doesn’t mean I actually know you. It’s the same with God.
Relationships don’t form through the accumulation of facts, thoughts and beliefs. They form through spending time together. Through sharing hearts and experiences. Through listening. With God, these things happen and a relationship forms through prayer.
I think part of the problem is that many of us were taught to think of prayer as something we make an appointment to do – like exercise or going to the dentist. So we struggle to set aside “quiet time”, as a lot of Christians call it, to pray. When we actually make time for prayer, it’s boring and uncomfortable. We struggle to focus and stay awake even. It’s like an uncomfortable, akward dinner with a distant relative you never see and have nothing in common with. Which is hardly great motivation to keep up with your quiet time.
Now, quiet time in prayer is good and healthy. It would be wonderful if everyone spent time in quiet praying each day. At its best it’s like stealing away for a quiet dinner with your beloved – something you long for and look forward to. In time, people who muster the discipline of keeping a daily, set time of quiet prayer do end up viewing their prayer time this way. But for a lot of people, enjoying quiet prayer time is an advanced exercise in prayer which must be built up to – not a starting point.
Let’s face it; many of us aren’t all that disciplined. Or we don’t have the tolerance to tough out the discomfort of what feel like daily dinners with weird, senile Aunt Marge. Which is fine, actually. Because the God described in scriptures doesn’t wait for us to be good enough, disciplined or strong enough to have a relationship with us. So over the next few days, I’m going to be sharing my top 5 tips for developing a real, life-sustaining, relationship-building prayer life. Even if you’re a disorderly slacker and wus like me.
Tip one is:
Pick a “prayer trigger”
Choose some fairly common object or occurence which will serve as a reminder/trigger to say a quick prayer.
In my book The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life, I share two prayer triggers which have worked for me. The first is to say a prayer when ever I see flashing emergency lights or hear a siren. I say a prayer for whomever they are going to help and offer thanks that whatever is going on in my world at the moment, those lights and sirens aren’t for me.
The other prayer trigger I’ve used comes from Philippians 4:6:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Everytime I found myself becoming anxious or worried, I’d use it as a cue to say a prayer. Usually it’s nothing fancy – just a “hey, God. I’m struggling here” is fine.
Other prayer triggers I have heard people use are things like:
Seeing a penny on the ground
A particular flower
Someone wearing a particular color
Hearing a chosen word
A small token or trinket in a purse, pocket or on your desk.
Usually it helps it the trigger has some meaning behind it for you personally. This makes it much more likely that you will notice it and react to it. If you are having a hard time thinking of a good trigger, ask God to show you one as you go about your regular activities. If all else fails, you can put a small (but not tiny) stone in your pocket each morning and use that – every time you notice it, you say a prayer.
Once you’ve chosen a prayer trigger, you want to do two things. The first is to ask God to help you to remember to say a prayer when you encounter your prayer trigger. The second is to think if there is a particular prayer you will say when you encounter your prayer trigger. You can always improv when you encounter your prayer trigger, of course. But this is supposed to be a helpful, not stressful exercise. Sometimes having to think up a prayer to say on the fly can be stressful. If you don’t know what else to say, The Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) always works.
So do you have a prayer trigger you use? If you haven’t done this before, but want to give it a go, what do you think you will use for your prayer trigger? Share below and maybe I’ll share some of the best ideas/stories/suggestions on The Upside Down World’s facebook page!