Prayer doesn’t come easy for most of us. There’s not enough time, it doesn’t feel like a big priority, and many of us just feel guilty when we think about our prayer life (or lack thereof).
I remember when I was younger and first read Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonian church:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thess 5:16-18
What could it possibly mean to pray continually when it’s difficult for us to pray even once a day? And why would I want to do that?
Learning to pray by praying
We were meant to life our lives with God, to share in God’s life, to participate in divine union. Prayer, both together with others and by ourselves, is the primary pathway for this connection to God. There’s really no way around it: to be a Christian is to be a pray-er. Christians pray!
So how do we get started? One mistake I see people often make in their attempts to pray without ceasing is to think they can jump right to the “without ceasing” part and skip the praying part. In other words, they think they can just “make their whole life a prayer” by trying.
But that never really works. You don’t learn anything by just trying. You have to engage in some training. Which means practice. Which means practicing something specific at certain times. Which means you can’t really learn to pray without ceasing until you learn to pray for a few minutes at a time.
So the first part of learning to pray without ceasing is to make sure you actually have some sort of rhythm of daily prayer. The only way to learn to pay attention to God with your whole life is to practice paying attention to God at specific times.
I recommend at least scheduling time for morning prayer, but committing to a short time of prayer at noon and in the evening has also been an incredibly fruitful discipline for me.
Learn to pray from tradition
Here’s where I always got tripped up, though. I would decide to get up at a certain time in the morning and pray for 30 minutes. I’d get up, make some coffee, sit in my chair, and… didn’t know what to do. I’d read my Bible for a bit, then try and think of something to pray about, then get distracted by something I forgot to do yesterday, and then usually end up checking my email.
Part of my issue was that I thought authentic prayer was the same thing as spontaneous prayer. I thought that prayers I “made up” on demand were “truer” than pre-written prayers. Nonsense.
Prayer is not just about me expressing myself to God, it’s about being formed by God into the image of Christ. Prayer is something we must learn, as the disciples intuited when they asked Jesus to teach them to pray.
As Brian Zahnd says, “The primary purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what we think God ought to do. The primary purpose of prayer is to be properly formed.”
One of the ways we learn to pray is by submitting to the wisdom of those who’ve gone before us in faith. That’s all tradition is: the collected wisdom of our ancestors in the faith. Why wouldn’t we pay attention to them? As G.K. Chesterton said, “Tradition means giving a vote to… our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.”
This is why I pray the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer every day. I’m learning to pray by praying the prayers the church has given to us. This practice has completely transformed my prayer life, and I want to commend it to you.
That’s why we’ve put together simplified daily prayer liturgies for morning and evening prayer. It’s a simple form of prayer you can move through in about 15 minutes. I love knowing that even when I’m praying by myself, I’m really praying with the church, with you all! Plus there’s space in there for any personal or communal prayer needs you have.
Why not commit to pray every day this summer? Download our Ordinary Time prayer liturgies or pick up a copy of the Book of Common Prayer and start connecting with God and the church in prayer every day.