A Methodist pastor talked about leaving the ministry. He said he had lost the joy of serving. He no longer enjoyed pastoring or counseling or preaching or any of the other responsibilities of being a clergy person. When asked about his prayer life, there was an awkward silence. Tragically, like so many other people, this pastor didn’t have a prayer life.
Dwight L. Moody, the noted 19th Century evangelist, said that those of us in the ministry go bankrupt for the same reason people go bankrupt in the world of business — it’s too much business on too little capital.
So how do we pray anyway? Here are a few suggestions — not from one who knows how to pray — but from one who seeks to be persistent in his praying.
First, have a place of solitude! I am reasonably certain that this solitude must come first. Because the real hindrances to devotional practice are not major things. More likely, they are little things centered around the difficulty of just making a place and time for silence in the busyness of life.
The late Henri Nouwen said, “Silence is the discipline that helps us go beyond the entertainment quality of our lives.”
And here we are reminded that the Old Testament prophet Elijah didn’t find God in the wind or in the earthquake or in the fire but in the still small voice.
Second, if possible, make a specific time! The issue is not how long we pray, but that we make the specific time to pray.
A former violinist was once asked the secret of her success. She replied, “Well, I used to get up, have breakfast, do the dishes and other minor chores, and then I would do my practicing. But I got nowhere. I finally decided to put my practicing first ... with a program of ‘planned neglect’ for the other little things which I could do later in the day.”
That’s a terrific line. “Planned neglect” of the less important to make time for the most important. If possible, make a specific time to pray.
Third, pray alone and pray in community! Perhaps this truth can be seen in what makes for a meaningful devotional life. It all has to do with the process of being conformed to the image of Christ (praying alone) for the sake of others (praying in community).
Fourth, read and pray the prayers of others! John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was convinced that prayer can be of our own making (he called it extemporary) or we can profitably use the multitude of prayers in the church prayer book and devotional literature.
Wesley felt that it is difficult to carry on a vital prayer life simply using the prayers that we make up (Wesley’s Journal January 2,1737).
Fifth, expect some less than fruitful times! The tide comes in and the tide goes out. Like everything else, that is also true of our prayer lives. Sometimes, we are not quite as prepared to pray as at other times. We may be distracted, too much in a hurry or be in a wrongful mood. The important thing is that we pray through those times knowing that God understands and wants to engage in fellowship with us.
Sixth, pray consistently! When my father died suddenly, I was numb and didn’t feel like attending to my daily devotional practice. However, with a heavy heart I attended to it anyway, and God used that time to help me in the healing of my grief.
Seventh, pray with faith! As the late Dr. J. Wallace Hamilton, well known clergy person, stated: “Your own private chapel must be a place of certainty — at least it will get to be that it you stay long enough. “...He [She] that cometh to God,” said the Apostle, “must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarded of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).