Be realllllly honest for a minute: how is your prayer life? That's what we call it, right? We're good Christians, and we have this compartmentalized section in our lives that is called our "prayer life". Because, you know, prayer takes on a life of its own I guess?
Seriously though, prayer is tough. And I say that not as a person who does pray (though I don't think I do it nearly as much as I should) and I don't say that as someone who doesn't see the clear references in the Bible to prayer and what makes it essential to the life of one who calls themselves a Christian.
I've fought to pray. I've deserted my world and crawled into the dark recesses of a corner closet thinking that would be the way to get a good word to God, and maybe, just maybe, get a word back. A magical reply.
I've bowed my head in moments of crisis, the thing you do to tell others around you that you're in that spiritual zone where you're really connecting to God and don't dare tap me on the shoulder or speak to me because I'M IN THE ZONE. There. Praying hard. Even with my brow scrunched to exude extra concentration.
I've lied to people. Probably even to you. I've said "I'm praying for you!" and then went out the door forgetting about all of the worries weighing you down, because, to be frank, they're not weighing me down.
We've all done that, right? Look at Facebook for crying out loud. This is how it works: so and so from your past (likely someone you had Algebra class with in 9th grade but haven't actually seen or spoken to in 20 years) posted that the entire family has the stomach bug (poor little Suzie and Johnny) and please pray because it really stinks for one person to be throwing up all over the house, much less a family of four. So the comments begin flooding in.
"Praying for you guys!"
"Awww....praying for you!"
"We're praying for you all."
My favorite is the one where someone just says "Prayers". Maybe if you're lucky they have thrown in the cute little prayer emoji. That's right. They're praying for you RIGHT FROM THEIR iPhone!
Some of these people actually do care, and actually are praying for you. Maybe I'm one of them. I hope I am.
But I'm probably not.
A few months back, our small group has been reading through A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I'm not one who typically gets into Christian books (they all read relatively the same and too many are saying the same thing), but this one struck me. The author pinpoints the problem with prayer from the start: "Praying exposes how self-preoccupied we are and uncovers our doubts." So true.
I've come to notice that the things I never pray for fall into two extremes: either they're too big for God (so and so has cancer, please heal them, people are dying of starvation all over the world, please feed them, etc.) or they're too small for God (I've got this weird dull pain in my right eye, please take it away, I've lost my car keys, please help me find them, the cat scratched the girls, please get her to stop, etc.)
So basically I just don't pray. I mean, I do sometimes, but not like I should. So when I read the first chapter of Romans, I get that guilt in my stomach. Paul is writing to believers letting them know not only that he has been and still is praying for them, but that God is his witness to his prayers! You know those times we'll swear we're telling the truth, and say something like "I swear on my family/my momma's grave/the Bible?" This is kinda like that, but Paul is so sure of his constant prayers he acknowledges God as his witness. Can you say that? I know I can't. My failings to pray are too frequent.
Paul does two things in Romans 1:8-12- he thanks God for his fellow believers, and he expresses his desire to encourage them. To me, this feels like a great starting point when our prayer life needs a kick in the pants: thank God for those he has placed around you to love and care for you, then ask God to help you give them encouragement.
If we encounter God in prayer with a cheerful heart, praising him for his numerous blessings, we are more apt to hear what he wants us to do. It takes the focus off of just us and places it on others, giving us more freedom to exhibit God's love for others and, yep, to honestly spend time in prayer for them.