Last week I wrote two posts on recovering from spiritual burnout and talked about some of my own struggles I had in this area recently. We covered both reasons why so many are feeling burned out right now, and also some things to take a break from in order to prevent burnout. However, the one really big point that needs to be hit in this discussion is the issue of prayer.
Prayer is perhaps one of the most important spiritual practices in the life of a believer, and something that even Jesus himself habitually practiced.
As you’ll recall, I cited a verse that said, “Jesus continued in his habit of going off alone to quiet places…” (Luke 5:16) The next issue we need to consider is the question, “What did Jesus do when he got there?”
Well, he prayed.
Prayer is key to a vibrant spiritual life in Christ. Beyond just a discussion of spiritual burnout, there aren’t many discussion to be had regarding a life following Jesus that do not include discussion on the importance of prayer.
But what do we do when our prayer life sucks?
I’ve been working on reclaiming my prayer life, because that’s historically been one of my weak areas. Throughout my process I’ve learned a few things that may help you as well– things you could start or change to rediscover prayer when your prayer life is dead:
Start your day with prayer instead of ending it with prayer.
I’m not saying don’t pray at the end of the day, but what I am saying is that to be perfectly honest, most of my bedtime prayers last two sentences before I fall asleep. Try getting up a few minutes earlier and starting your day in a quiet spot alone where you can go pray.
Take a season being Opposite George with your prayer life.
My favorite Seinfeld was the Opposite George episode (which became a chapter in Christian Outsiders) where George started using his opposite instinct to make life choices. I’ve found this “opposite instinct” to actually be helpful for prayer life. Have you been approaching prayer in the same way since your childhood? Try doing the opposite for a season.
If you grew up in a highly structured, liturgical culture, try getting rid of all of the canned prayers you’re used to, and just talk to God from your heart. Or, if you grew up completely unstructured and find that’s not helpful right now, try adding structure to your prayer by trying either of the following: using a prayer book and praying prayers written in the book, or pick a Psalm and pray that particular verse as a personal prayer. If neither of those options ring your bell, you could even write out your own “life prayer” to ritualistically pray each morning. The key here is to try something different.
Find a quiet spot outside to go pray.
In the Luke passage it seems that for Jesus there was something about being alone in nature that was helpful for his prayer life- and it has been for mine as well. If at all possible try to find a quiet spot to pray in creation, at least periodically.
Try practicing Lectio Divina.
Lectio Divina (“sacred reading”) is a practice that has been used by monks since the early church. Lectio Divina includes four parts: reading, meditating, praying and contemplating. In this spiritual practice we begin by selecting a verse or passage and read it over and over again repeatedly. We then begin to meditate on the meaning of the passage, the application of the passage, or even on just one particular word from the passage. After meditating on it, we pray about it and then contemplate and listen for God to speak to our hearts. While more often a communal practice, I’ve found Lectio Divina to be a great individual practice when my prayer life felt stuck.
Give yourself permission to be you when you pray.
Even for those of us who didn’t grow up in a formally liturgical tradition, our prayers often become scripted and done in a way that doesn’t reflect our natural personality. But you know what? God wants you and your heart, so give yourself permission to just be you when you pray. For me, the first time I prayed, “God, my life is kinda bullshit right now and I need help,” it became a freeing moment because I realized that I could just be me when talking to God. Our relationship with God should be the most authentic of all relationships, so stop trying to be someone you’re not when you pray– just be you.
Practice single sentence prayers throughout the day.
For me, this last one was perhaps the most helpful in jumpstarting a dead prayer life. Instead of being down on myself for not knowing what to say at “prayer time” I just started praying single sentence prayers throughout the day whenever something came to mind. When walking my dog in the woods, I’d quietly hear myself say, “Thank you, God, for such a beautiful area to live in” or during a difficult moment in the day I’d just take two seconds to say, “I really don’t know what to do God, please give me wisdom.” I even found myself asking God to bless people I passed on the street or in the supermarket once these single sentence prayers became second nature.
What I love about single sentence prayers throughout the day is they quickly build on each other to the point where you’ll find that you’re actually living in a near-constant dialogue with God, which is exactly how scripture tells us we should live (1 Thess 5:17). If any prayer practice has a good snowball effect, it’s this one– which is also the easiest and most natural form of prayer.
Prayer life is key to following Jesus, and something we need to be vigilant about maintaining. However, we all go through seasons where our prayer life gets in a rut and the well runs dry. When that happens– strike that– before that happens, give some of these things a try. You might unexpectedly find yourself with a vibrant new prayer life.
What helps me maintain an active prayer life is journaling. It is my daily conversation with Jesus, following my evening prayer. It is a combination examen, diary, and mostly, reviewing my day with my Best Friend. I can be me without fear of being judged, I can cry, I can laugh, even share jokes and gossips, and always ending with a big thank-you for another day spent with Him. When something happens during the day, good or bad, I can’t wait to sit down and tell Jesus about it. Some days when I am tired or out of sorts, I catch up the next day, just like I do with my friends.