Healthy relationships are fueled by dialog—ongoing, honest, two-way conversation. Without open lines of communication, a relationship withers. Nowhere is this more true than in our relationship with God. He speaks to us through the Scriptures, the very words of God preserved for us over many centuries, and he invites us to speak to him through prayer. This is a remarkable invitation. The God of heaven and earth invites us to speak directly to him, and he promises to listen.
Despite all this, most believers seldom pray honestly. Most of us pray regularly, at least bowing our heads while the pastor prays, but it becomes much more difficult to speak honestly with God when no one else is listening.
A. W. Tozer puts it like this: “We cannot seem to get our minds into good working order, and the first thing we have to fight is wandering thoughts. The great battle in private prayer is overcoming this problem of our idle and wandering thinking. We have to learn to discipline our minds and concentrate on willful, deliberate prayer.”
Here are three steps you can take to cultivate a habit of prayer that is both consistent and genuine.
Keep a list
A prayer list will help you stay organized. If you have an affinity for lists, chances are you’re already doing this; if you don’t self-identify as a “list person,” consider keeping just this one. A written list, whether physical or digital, will keep you from making a flippant “I’ll pray for you” promise with intention of following through.
Avoid mimicking what you hear
If you grew up in church, you may be familiar with a particular style or cadence of prayer. There is nothing wrong with this kind of style, but it does miss the point. Prayer is one half of a conversation. It’s your chance to speak directly to God. Speak as yourself, not as someone else. Mimic what you hear others praying and you’ll quickly find yourself making rote prayers, built with snap-together phrases that, though they have a pious ring, have become devoid of meaning. If you hear the prayer of another whom you admire, mimic its spirit, but use your own words. Use words that you would use in conversation.
Write prayers out
This might also feel funny if you’ve never done it before, but writing (or typing) a prayer to God can help overcome many of the challenge that Tozer pointed out. Silent, private prayer can often degrade from prayer to thought, and thinking is not the same as praying. Let’s be honest: it’s also easy to get distracted or doze off. A pen or keyboard keeps your mind focused.
Beyond these three suggestions, how do you keep your prayer life vibrant and strong?