How I Pray...even When It's Hard

Prayer is hard. When “Amazing Grace” hymnist, John Newton, observed that we are dragged before God like slaves and we run away like thieves, he was talking about prayer. “I find myself so unwilling to engage in it,” he lamented. When Tim Keller wrote, “I can think of nothing great that is also easy,” he was writing about prayer.

For me, consistent prayer has always been a battle, a fight. One of the most difficult things for fallen people to do is to come to God on bent knees with empty hands; as one put it, “I am loath to come to prayer, and when I’m there I am loath to stay.”

Yet some things cannot be put off. I cannot pray today’s prayers tomorrow. Tomorrow has its own demands. Disciples follow disciplines—tasks they wrestle with each day, every day. Making peace with that fact was a step toward my own consistency.

Since connecting with God in intimate friendship is vital for survival, I thought you might like to know, briefly, how I pray, however feebly, in my own labor to connect with God—not to hold myself up as a model, but to offer a hand, a modest guide, an encouragement to a fellow sojourner. Here is what I do. Here is how I pray.

The impulse at first is to hurry (so much to do), to run my request list and move on. But I resist it. Instead, I start by quieting myself and connecting. I reach out to the Lord, almost always with the words, “Father, hallowed be Thy name.” It’s a beginning, an embrace, an initiation of intimacy—“Father. You are holy. I am not. I need You.”

The reason I settle my body and my mind to focus on God—daily, ideally—is to attach to Him, to honor Him, to plead with Him, to devote myself to Him. That is my need. I don’t always succeed in connecting deeply, yet still I first reach to Him. That’s the beginning—“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (Ja. 4:8).

Next I sing a hymn, a song sweet to me with words that come from my heart, expressing my hunger, my desire, my love, my dependence—or maybe extolling a Divine virtue. I find older music more satisfying. Lately, one favorite is the chorus to “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” with lyrics altered to sing to Him, not about Him: “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust You, how I need You more and more…Oh for strength to trust You more.”

Next, I open my copy of Valley of Vision, a collection of short Puritan prayers. I read aloud, praying one prayer only—slowly, thoughtfully, intentionally—modifying the words here and there to match my own intentions and theology, making it my own, applying it to my personal circumstances and expanding on it as I like.

My next supplication starts with some form of “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” I want God to make changes, and the first place the Kingdom needs to descend is in my own life, and in my home with my own family. Here I get specific citing my own failings and inadequacies, asking God to change me in the ways I’m aware I clearly must change. If I need to admit wrong, or plead for strength, or beg for sanctification in me, this is the time.

Next comes my family—my wife, my girls. I do battle for my family, praying God’s Kingdom for those who are mine. “Deliver us from evil,” Jesus taught us to pray. That is what I ask for my own, noting specific areas where I see struggle or particular needs that must be met—conflicts, shortcomings, desires, hopes—all for my own.

From there I move to others—the urgent, pressing needs of friends first, usually—or to more general concerns I’m aware of. Finally, I pray for help with the specific tasks ahead of me that day—my “daily bread,” so to speak.

I exit simply by devoting myself and my day to God, closing with the short doxology at the end of the Lord’s prayer, or with David’s parting benediction in Ps. 19: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer,” or with something else meaningful. It’s up to you.

That’s the basic pattern. I don't do each thing every time I pray—sometimes I leave steps out—but the sequence connects me to God, gets me moving, and keeps me on track. If anything feels mechanical or rote, I stop, refocus, then start that part over.

At times, though, I abandon the plan entirely. Some issues are so pressing the prayers gush out spontaneously with feeling and intensity, and I don’t want an imposed pattern to impede my connection with God when that happens. I just let it go.

The structure is not rigid, but a tool, a guideline, an approach. It helps when I pray aloud, but not always. Sometimes I simply whisper, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me” over and over since they’re the only words I can muster.

Remember, the first rule of prayer is to pray—action always beats intention. Second, attachment to God is the goal. It’s where the life is—in Him, not in a method.

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Greg Koukl

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