GODFREY: There is always Luther’s advice when he was asked: “What should I do since I’m so prayerless? What should I do about not wanting to pray? What should I do about not praying?” Luther said, “Take yourself in hand and say, ‘Down on your knees, you lazy bum—pray!’”
To a certain extent, what Luther said is true. The only way to become prayerful is to pray that the Lord will make you prayerful. It’s a gift of His, and we have to pursue it. I think Calvin said something similar but in a slightly more refined way. If you don’t feel like praying, pray that the Lord will make you feel like praying.
DEYOUNG: I would want to know whether it is a sense of prayerlessness or actual prayerlessness. I’m going to take the question to mean that the person has an accurate sense and is struggling to pray, and what has been said is certainly part of the counsel they would need.
I would also want people to understand, practically, that sometimes we have a truncated view of what prayer is like. That may be owing to our own evangelical tradition, and perhaps even because of the heritage of the Great Awakenings, and all that is helpful in thinking about this question. However, we can get in our minds that to pray means being by yourself, getting up in the morning, and spending a half hour talking to God. How many of us can get up and communicate anything meaningfully during the first half hour after we wake up? It’s difficult to do anything. So, we think that we should just be able to say to ourselves: “Get up, get out of bed—you’re not tired. Go, pray.” I can’t do that. It not only takes work to pray, but it takes work to prepare to pray.
There are all sorts of ways you can prepare with lists and helpful devices, but part of this is realizing that we have sometimes equated our prayer time with spontaneous, extemporaneous private devotions. Get some brothers or sisters around to pray. Even if you can’t think of what to say, you can, as Paul said, say “amen” to their prayers.
You can use a hymnal. Some hymns are prayers, but they all can be used as prayers. You can read the Psalms. One of the greatest prayer warriors I know is one of those guys who does get up and pray four hours a day, and he said: “Mainly what I do is memorize the Psalms. I pray the Psalms to the Lord as I go through them.” Use The Valley of Vision, use prayer books, use even an old version of Book of Common Prayer—sneak it into your Presbyterian church and use it privately. There are lots of things we can do in regards to prayer.
When Jesus went out and was praying, we tend to think He was just praying like we were, but He was probably going through a set of psalms, psalter hymns that He knew by heart, and other prayers that Jews were instructed in. There are many ways to jumpstart your prayer.
Let me give you one practical idea that’s been helpful for me: walk. It’s harder to fall asleep when you’re walking. Go out and walk ten minutes, and then you have ten minutes to come back, which means you can have a long, wandering prayer.
Read through Psalm 55 sometime. The psalmist is praying, and sometimes he’s talking to God in the second person, sometimes he’s talking about himself, and sometimes he’s talking about God in the third person. It’s a freewheeling conversation in the presence of God.
The most important thing about prayer, perhaps, is where it ends up. Sometimes on the way to end up in a good place, the Psalms take some circuitous routes, and we may too in our long, wandering prayers. So, get up, walk around, have a hymnal, and try something different.