I’m a big believer in prayer.
I know this isn’t always a popular position to take in our culture. Most people, including many people who attend church, think of prayer as a formal obligation at best and a bit strange at worst. But I’m a true believer as Stan Lee might say.
I fully believe that God is active in answering our prayers. But that hasn’t always been true. There was a time I didn’t believe in God, let alone prayer. Because of that background I got into the habit of “tracking” my prayers. I don’t mean I plug them into a spreadsheet or anything. I just make a note of the prayer. Sometimes by writing them down, other times just making a mental note of what I’ve prayed for. I did this initially because I wanted to see if God was real. I wanted to know if he answered prayers.
But now I do it because I find it useful to periodically check my prayers to see if they’ve happened.
They don’t always. Sometimes, though, I am surprised. There has been more than one prayer that I’ve forgotten, only to be reminded by a random slip of paper. Those are the prayers where I think God is gloating a bit.
The benefit of all of this is that I occasionally notice trends. For instance, it seems that when I pray for myself, many of my prayers are being answered in powerful, obvious ways. You’re thinking, “isn’t that supposed to happen?” Yes it is. But that’s not the only thing I’ve noticed. I’ve also seen a disturbing counter-trend: my prayers for other people don’t seem to be as effective.
Now there’s a lot of stuff that goes into prayer. Your relationship with God, your behaviors, your desire to let God work in your life, and what God has planned for you. Not to mention all the spiritual warfare stuff. (Which I guess I just mentioned…) So maybe my prayers are effective for other people and I just don’t realize it. Or maybe God is trying to work in their lives and they aren’t cooperating. Or maybe there’s some other reason that I don’t know.
But it makes me wonder: could my prayers for other people be less effective because I’m not praying with the same intensity and urgency I pray for myself?
It’s easy to pray for my own life. I know the specifics. I care about each and every thing in my life. Do I carry that same passion when I pray for other people?
The truth is, I don’t.
And that bothers me.
It bothers me to think that maybe my intensity and desire isn’t enough. It bothers me to think that I am not praying with urgency for people.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I am the reason for problems in other people’s lives. I don’t have enough of an ego to believe that I have that kind of control. But what it does suggest is that I am not loving others enough. That I am breaking the greatest commandment: love your neighbors as yourself.
And that bothers me.
Of course just thinking about something isn’t a way to live out a life of faith.
Living out a life of faith means that you need to take action. You need to move. You need to get dirty (metaphorically in this case). So I’ve taken steps to fix this problem. Since I noticed this behavior I have come up with two ways to enhance my prayer life.
- I pray right away. When someone says, “will you pray for me?” I don’t wait until some later point to pray. I do it in the moment. If I wait, I might forget. Or I might try to cram it into a busy and hectic day.
- “Formal” prayer involves prayers for others. When I spend specific and deliberate time with God, I make sure to pray for other people. Maybe not everyone who asked, but enough. This ensures that people get prayed for repeatedly, and ensures that I am not totally self-centered in my prayers.
Prayer isn’t a magic formula. It’s not about how many times you say it. It’s not about saying it some specific way. It’s about a posture and an approach towards God. And I want my posture and approach to God to be one of humility, awareness, and love.