How to Pray More

“I don’t care what you say, talk to me.”

Any one know the reference? It’s a song from the musical Bye Bye Birdie, of all things. Where the protagonist is singing to the woman he loves, begging her to just talk to him. The few lines I remember from the song are always what pop into my head whenever I read a book or article about prayer, or when I hear someone teaching on prayer, and how we should be praying more (it always seems like we can be doing more).

This picture of the man begging his lover to “just talk to him” is what hits me about the song and how it relates to prayer. This really is God’s view of prayer. It is the means by which his people, his beloved, talk to him.

This is one of our first pictures together while on a short term missions trip to Italy.

What lover doesn’t want their beloved to talk to them? As a mom of four kids, I am always stealing away moments to talk to my husband. Talking to him is what I literally stay up late to do. I can’t get enough of the guy! Even with my busy days of babies, cleaning, homework, and making dinner.

If I spend so much time and energy talking to my beloved who is here, and who loves me imperfectly, should I not also have the same excitement to talk to my Beloved who loves me perfectly? I should, and I want to, then why is prayer so hard? Why do so many Christians find prayer hard?

Well, I cannot speak to everyone, but I can speak to what my problem is. For me it is an issue of habit. Simple? Yes. Easy? No.

I fall out of the habit of talking. I am introverted by nature, so it is easy for me to stay in my head and not talk. It is easy to not talk. I know not everyone is like this. Perhaps for you there is something you need to talk to your spouse, or parent, or friend about, but for some reason you can’t. You maybe find it easy to talk about sports, a favorite TV show, how your kids are doing, but not about it (whatever it is). The main thing you have been meaning to bring up, just never happens. Why? I think it’s because we stick to what is normal, what is easy, what is comfortable, and we don’t make new habits of talking. Talking to different people, talking about deeper things, talking about the things of God, or talking to God. It’s simple to change, we just start talking regularly, but it isn’t easy. (I have a theory that simple things are never easy, but that’s for another post.)

For me, I had fallen out of the habit of praying because it was never really a habit of mine to begin with. For those who don’t know my story, here’s the short version: while I grew up in a Christian home, and even made some kind of profession of faith, I didn’t truly give myself over to Christ’s Lordship and have a saving faith of my own until I was in college. I got married right after college, and became a mom a year after that. So, life progressed quickly for me, and there are lots of habits (whether in the home, or in my heart) I never developed. Prayer is one of them.

So, I’ve started anew. I’ve started setting up routines, times, and places for me to pray regularly. That word is key: regularly.

Here’s what I do to make sure I pray.

How to Pray Regularly:

  1. Pick a Time – For me this is during Jesse’s first, or second, morning nap. I sit in my nursing chair, read my bible, and pray. I use my bible reading to direct my prayers.
  2. Pick a Place – As I said above, I pray in my nursing chair. It’s my quiet place. It’s in my room, away from the rest of the house. The older kids can, and do, come to me there, but are always quiet and cautious to not wake the baby, which makes it a good place for Mommy to have some quiet time with God.
  3. Pick an Object – This is something I’ve picked up from a couple different places, but specifically from the tradition of prayer quilts. I was first introduced to the concept of prayer quilts years ago when my Nana got very sick. She was given a prayer quilt from some of her friends who had prayed for her using the quilt while she was in the hospital. A prayer quilt has strings on the top of it and people can gather around it and as they pray they tie the strings in to knots, one knot equaling one prayer. I really like the tactile nature of this tradition. I have adjusted it by using objects I use in my everyday life to be memorials of prayer.
    • My first object is my mug. I hold my mug with both hands, feeling the warmth from the hot tea (or coffee) and that feeling slows down my mind. I close my eyes and I pray. Right there with my mug in my hands.
    • My second object is a pair of earrings. Almost six years ago, a friend of mine was in the process of adopting an embryo. She had also made these earrings. Once we found out one of the embryos she and her husband had adopted had successfully implanted, I wore those earrings. I wore them nearly everyday for her whole pregnancy, and every time I put them in my ears I prayed for her, her husband, and the baby growing within her. (That little embryo is now a healthy, happy, five year old and dear friend of my children.) Someone in my life recently shared with me they are trying to conceive their first child and are finding it a bit discouraging. I’m wearing the earrings again.
  4. Pick Requests – I currently have one prayer request I am praying for every day. I don’t keep a list of prayer requests, mostly because I don’t have time, yet, to dedicate to praying through the list. However, whenever someone gives me a request, I pray for it right then in the moment.

Bonus points:

It takes discipline. I didn’t want to hear this, and I know this is hard (see, I told you! Simple but hard.) You have to choose to pray instead of doing something else. You have to take the time away from something else and pray. It’s totally worth it! But you have to do it.

You are not alone. God wants. you to pray, and he helps you to pray. This has been the most amazing part of creating a habit of prayer, for the Christian, this is more than a habit, it’s sanctification. Creating a habit of prayer makes you more like Christ.

Have you ever heard the advice “pray until you pray” when trying to develop your habit of prayer? I have, so often! It’s the idea that you should begin doing the thing before your feelings are in it, or even when your feelings aren’t in it. I didn’t really understand this, or how it could work until I read C. S. Lewis’ version of it. He uses the analogy of tin soldiers playing pretend at being real, that this is what Christians are doing essentially at playing to be like Jesus, except that he is beside us, helping us, and making us more real, and less tin (basically, the process of sanctification).

“Now the moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. You will find several things going on in your mind which would not be going on there if you were really a son of God… You see what is happening. The Christ Himself, the Son of God who is a man (just like you) and God (just like His Father) is actually at your side and is already at that moment beginning to turn your pretence in to reality… The real Son of God is at your side. He is beginning to turn your into the same kind of thing as Himself. He is beginning, so to speak to ‘inject’ His kind of life and thought, His Zoe, into you; beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the. part that is still tin.”

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis

It’s a Process

What I take from the above quote, and from encouragement from scripture in general, is to keep going. Don’t give up if you’ve missed a few days or weeks, or whatever. Just pick up where you left on, or begin anew. God is always waiting to talk to his children. He loves it. It wants it.

I think it’s also helpful, and hopeful, to remember what Jesus said about prayer. He never said “if you pray, pray like this…”. Instead, he always said “when you pray…”. So do it. Just pray. Yes, it may be fumbling and awkward at first, that’s how conversations usually go when you haven’t spoken in a while. It’s normal. Just start talking with God.

I hope you are encouraged by some of my tips to get started praying, again or for the first time.

Soli Deo Gloria

Finding a Peace-filled Schedule

Spoiler alert: I haven’t found it.

Schedules and routine are glorious things.
When I was a new mom, I followed a sleep training schedule just to keep me sane (postpartum emotions are no joke). Second baby came 15 months after the first, and getting my babies to sleep at the same time was my end-all-be-all goal.
Now, with three children ages 4.5 years, 3 years, and 16 months, schedules have been an vital part of our home for just about 5 years!

Schedules = sanity

Or do they?

For all of my motherhood, I have searched for peace and security in schedules. Yet, I still battle with anxiety (the kind where you just sit alone and cry for no reason, or can’t find it in you to get off the couch or even out of bed).

Why?

There is only one place where we can find peace, security, sanity, purpose, and all the other things we really are looking for in our ideal schedule.
That place, is actually a person, it’s Jesus.

Jesus is the source of lasting peace.
Jesus is the anchor for our fluctuating emotions and circumstances.
Jesus is the only cause for life-long and minute-by-minute purpose.

“The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.”

Proverbs 16:9

Schedules are good and often very helpful, they are fantastic guidelines, and give us (and our kids) things to look forward to. However, helpful tools were never meant to calm our souls, give us disaster-proof security, or motivate us with an all encompassing purpose that would fill every moment of our days and last our entire lives. Nothing on this earth can do that, only God can.

The book of Romans has a lot to say about peace, where it comes from, and where it does not come from. Let’s take a look at a few verses:

“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”

Romans 3:13-17

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Romans 5:1

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:6-8

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Romans 15:13

May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Romans 15:33

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace  of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Romans 16:20

True, lasting, unwavering peace comes when our trust is in Jesus alone. Why? Because unlike every other thing in the universe, including ourselves, he is unchanging. Peace founded in Jesus Christ because no matter what we go through no matter our circumstances, our emotions, our relationships, our mistakes, our health, any of it, he remains steadfast. He is our peace.

No matter what faces you today, tomorrow, ten years from now! God remains faithfully the same. We can rest secure in that.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Pandemic, Manna, Contentment, Anger, and the Idol of Me

They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Exodus 16:1-3 (emphasis added)

This was my Bible reading this morning, and it got me thinking….

Two months after the miraculous ten plagues, Passover, and crossing through the middle of the Red Sea on dry land, the entire congregation of Israel is grumbling.
This is more than the casual complaining, “just saying”, or venting type attitude we excuse ourselves of now. Or was it?
They were a good two month walk from the greatest civilization at the time, the only place they had ever known, and were now on a never ending camping trip in the middle of the wilderness. Oh, and they had run out of food. The people had some legitimate concerns! Food is important! Being in the middle of nowhere lacking food is deadly!

So what’s the problem?
Instead of seeking God’s guidance, instead of calling out to him for help (he clearly had the power and willingness to help them out), they looked to their own knowledge, their own understanding, and their own situation as being ultimate.
They had grown discontent. Following a miraculous pillar of cloud by day, and warming, light giving pillar of fire was not good enough.
They had let that discontentment take root, and now they were angry, with Moses and Aaron. Really? No. They took it out on Moses and Aaron. They had seen in Egypt what happens when you shake your fist at God directly, people die!
But God knew their hearts. They were angry with God, not Moses. They were not trusting God. They were trusting their eyes, their heads, their stomachs.

Those silly Israelites! Come on guys!

Well, how different am I? Just two weeks into public spaces being closed because of this current pandemic, and I feel discontent, a little angry. Justifiably so! A lot has changed in a short time, but if being in the wilderness and running out of food was not a good excuse for idolatry, then safer-at-home orders are not a good excuse either.

Idolatry? Whoa, hold on there. I see no statue worship, no fist shaking at God, no out right denial of his work.

Yes, idolatry. Whenever our peace, our hope, our security is relying on something other than God it’s idolatry.

Comfort, control, predictability, family, community, health, finances, “me time”, independence, whatever! If you are willing to sin to keep whatever it is, then it’s an idol. Not trusting God is the foundational sin, it’s what got Adam and Eve in the garden.

Yes, things are crazy. Yes, it is scary, nerve wracking, and we need to exercise caution (extreme caution in some cases). Yes, there is suffering (there was before COVID-19 and there will be after it).

But! God is not surprised, this is not outside of his plan. His good, pleasing, and perfect will for the good of those whom he has called, and for his glory forever and ever, has not changed and will not be stopped. Nothing can thwart his will.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

Romans 8:35

What happens in the next verses of Exodus? God gives them Manna, literally raining bread from heaven to feed them. Just before giving them the Manna, God gave Moses instructions about the Manna. God said to only collect enough for one day, except for the sixth day of the week collect enough for the seventh day also because the seventh day is the Sabbath, the day of rest. Even in God’s provision, he is requiring that the people trust him.

God did not take the people out of the wilderness. God did not lead them on a quicker path to the promised land. God did not have them settle down and start growing crops to solve their food problem. No, God did not change their circumstances, but came to them in the midst of their circumstances and provided for them even in their difficulty and even provided for them in their disobedience.

Praise God he comes to us before we come to him! Praise God he gives us grace before we ask for forgiveness! Praise God he allows us to see our weakness, so that the beauty of his provision is vibrant! Praise God he permits suffering so we stop clinging to our flimsy idols of self, and cling to our all sustaining, holy Savior!

Soli Deo Glroia!