What to do when your prayer life is stagnant
“Lord, teach us to pray.”
The disciples wondered this, and we’ve been wondering ever since. “Teach us to pray” is a phenomenal thing to ask. So many times, when my prayer life becomes stagnant, I don’t ask God, “Teach us to pray.” Instead, I either abandon prayer altogether because I feel uncreative and lost, or continue praying for things revolving around myself.
Let’s take the first problem. If I can’t “keep my prayers interesting”, then who was I actually praying to? God already said he doesn’t want fancy prayers (Mat. 6:5–8), so why, when I feel as though I’ve started to use simple words in my prayer life, do I stop? That’s where things begin! Some people seem to use public prayer time as a way to show how much Theology 401 terminology they know. And honestly, I wish I knew more terminology myself. But their example isn’t helpful if we want to pray like God desires we do. He’s always been about the heart. Don’t heap up empty phrases. Tell the truth of the matter.
Here’s how a child asks for help from her mother when she is hurt: “Mommy, help! I hurt myself!”
Here’s how we ask God for the same thing: “Lord God, I just ask that you would come and heal these wounds that I’ve inflicted on my body. Lord, I pray that you would enter into this situation and take all the pain away, Jesus, by your loving mercy and grace.”
Maybe Jesus was right when he said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 18:2)
And the second problem: praying about things revolving around ourselves. I’m sure I’m not the only one that falls into this rut. When we don’t know what to pray, we start reverting to what we know how to talk about—ourselves! Lord, help me do this. Lord, give me the energy for that. Lord, thank you for this food that I’m about to eat. Lord, me me me…. Where can we go to get ourselves off the me-and-my-awesome-life train?
One thing that’s helped me do this is liturgical prayer. I’ve been going through The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle. It has three daily offices of prayer, which is wonderful, and something I’ve never formally done. The Divine Hours is a contemporary Book of Hours and “the first major liturgical reworking of the sixth-century Benedictine Rule of fixed-hour prayer.” Here’s three reasons how liturgy has helped me. I hope they will in turn help you if you decide to take this up as well.
1. It focuses my attention on who God is through His Word. How refreshing it is to dwell on God’s character rather than my needs. Because in dwelling on the first, we realize that the second is more than taken care of.
2. It focuses my attention on the world outside myself. This is one of my favorite things about liturgy. It heightens and broadens my view of the world by praying the prayers of those who have gone before me. And these prayers are usually focused on external realities instead of my little world.
3. It helps me pray simply and pray the Scriptures. The Divine Hours uses simple, but beautiful language. It also has the Lord’s Prayer within each office (morning, midday, evening). I like to think of the Lord’s prayer as the first liturgy. In Into God’s Presence, N.T. Wright describes the Lord’s prayer as “an invitation to share in the prayer-life of Jesus himself.” And that prayer life is a simple, yet deep attachment to God as Father, King, and Lord.