3 Min Read

I don’t think I’ve ever met a Christian who was completely satisfied with his prayer life. You might know what it’s like: you try to pray, but it feels as if the words disintegrate before hitting the ceiling, and you start to wonder, “Is God listening, or am I talking to myself?” Then there’s that awful sluggishness. We try to stay up and pray, but like the disciples, no sooner do we shut our eyes and begin, “Dear Lord,” before the words hit us like a Benadryl. Or we might find ourselves distracted by tomorrow’s cares, and what begins as a petition soon becomes a mental conversation with a coworker. Alas, discouragement sets in: Why am I so bad at praying?

The truth is, we often make things harder than they need to be. Think of prayer as an exercise. You’re not always going to feel like praying, and some workouts are more satisfying than others. In exercise, consistency yields results, but you need to make sure you have proper form and realistic expectations. Here are a few simple tips for strengthening the muscle of prayer.

1. Repent.

First, repent. God isn’t interested in pretend petitions that serve as attempts to cover rebellious hearts. It’s no coincidence that before Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, He gave a series of instructions on how not to pray. To summarize, Jesus warned against being hypocritical and being superstitious (Matt. 6:5–8).

Sometimes we use prayer as a mask to hide behind. We say the right words while our hearts are in the wrong place. Prayer is never a means of justifying ourselves before God, nor is it a way of showing off before other Christians. God sees through duplicitous prayers. God told His covenant people in the book of Isaiah,

When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.” (Isa. 1:15, see also Prov. 15:29)

Nothing dries up the stream of prayer like living in sin. Before you commune with God in prayer, take time to confess your sins to Him. You might just find that the prayer-block you’ve been experiencing can be traced to your hands.

2. Remember who God is.

Next, remember who God is. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, “Our Father in heaven.” In the Greek New Testament, the word “Father” comes first. The right to call God “Father” doesn’t belong to all people, but only to those who have been adopted into the family of God through the work of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15).

Remember that the privileged access you have to the Father came through Jesus the Son. What a marvelous path Jesus has paved for sinners to call upon the Holy One with confidence (see Heb. 4:16). Remembering what God has done helps us rest in our identity as His beloved children and gives us the assurance that He not only tolerates our prayers, but He wants to listen to them as a good father attends to the cries of his kids (Matt. 7:11).

3. Repeat.

Finally, repeat. You’ll never develop a consistent prayer life if you only pray when you’re forced to, or when you feel like it. Developing a habit of prayer means purposing to come to God every day, perhaps even at set times, to pray. While vain repetitions are forbidden by Jesus, repetition itself is not condemned. Remember how Jesus commended the persistent widow, with her “continual coming” (Luke 18:5). Knock on the gates of heaven with your prayers as though you were intending to beat them down. When you grow discouraged, remember what John said: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Are you praying for God’s will to be done in your life, that He might sanctify you, and mold you more into the image of Jesus? Take heart—your knocks will not go unanswered, your requests won’t be withheld. That Jesus taught His disciples to pray for “today’s bread” means that He expects to hear from you today, each day (Matt. 6:11).