When it comes to prayer, one of the traps I seem to easily fall into is seeking the secondary effects of prayer instead of simply praying, conjuring a certain state of “prayerfulness” instead of simply getting down to the business of praying.
The problem (if you could call it that) is that sometimes prayer does lift me into a different state of mind. I am more in tune with spiritual realities, more in touch with God’s peace and kindness. It affects my emotions and my outlook.
But the trap is that when it is time to pray again, I inadvertently find myself seeking that state of mind instead of doing the activity that brought about the state of mind. I seek the secondary effect (“prayerfulness”) as a primary thing and thus lose both the primary thing and the secondary effect. I end up neither praying nor feeling prayerful! I vaguely try to conjure a certain state of mind and eventually give up, frustrated at how “hard” it is to pray.
But what I have been learning lately is to abandon the pursuit of “prayerfulness” and simply get down to the business of actually praying. This sounds absurdly obvious, I know, but it has been a profound revelation for me. Just sit down (or stand up, or walk around) and pray. Just start praying.
This is where I’ve found the Lord’s Prayer so helpful. It allows me to simply start praying. I don’t have to conjure a state of mind or come up with something new. I can just start praying. It’s like a portal into an awareness of God’s presence that I can enter no matter what I’m feeling like, no matter what state my heart is in. And no wonder: it’s the explicit answer Jesus gave his disciples to their request, “Teach us to pray.”
I’m not responsible to be in a certain state of mind, I’m simply responsible to pray. And Jesus didn’t make it a very mysterious thing as to how to go about that: “When you pray, pray like this…” As I do so, I am immediately made aware of God’s presence with me, that the Lord himself is here and I am speaking with him. If I don’t know what to say or how to start, I simply start with the words Jesus gave us, and it lifts me into the experience of prayer.
So instead of seeking a “prayerful” or peaceful state of mind, I can simply start praying by saying, “Our Father in heaven…” and then praying through the movements of the prayer I’ve been given, allowing it to do the work as I am simply faithful to the practice of moving through the phrases and attending to God’s presence and voice in the midst of them.
David Snider says
Wow, this is exceedingly helpful. Thanks Ben!
Ben Sternke says
Glad to hear that David! Hope you are well.
Thanks, Ben. Very good. I am wondering about the role of prayer, not prayerfulness, in our huddle. What is the rhythm of people on a journey praying for each other? I find that this ignites when we begin to talk about the Semi-Circle and John 15:1-16. Thanks for all that you are doing.
Ben Sternke says
Thanks for the comment, Gailyn.I think the rhythm of prayer in a huddle can work in a lot of ways. Generally speaking, I trust God to bring to mind the people and circumstances I am to pray for personally, and within an actual huddle meeting, I will oftentimes pause and pray for people when it seems appropriate to do so, so we can leverage our faith for one another.
Thanks for this Ben. Great reminder of the beauty of prayer.
Jake Lambert says
I often think that my attempts to pray properly is really just my attempt at getting in the right state of mind. Just praying without worrying about all the reasons Im not qualified to pray (at that particular moment) seems ludicrous when we think about living life in the flow of God's abundant grace. Thanks for the post!
Ben Sternke says
Thanks for the comment, Jake!
I needed to hear this today.
patwistics glad it was helpful!