Trying to write an article with a promise as ambitious as “Becoming the Person of Prayer You’ve Always Wanted to Be” is a bit unsettling. I guess I should say right from the start that I have no idea how to fulfill what it promises . . . if I knew what that was . . . which I don’t. What exactly is a person of prayer anyway? Is it the guy who never misses his quiet time? The woman who chronicles detailed requests, followed by the date each prayer is answered? The faithful few who always show up for church prayer meetings? Artsy journalers, name-it claimers, holy rollers, weather controllers, kingdom comers, Thy will be doners, mountain movers, promise provers—what are we talking about here?
Occasionally someone will describe me as a person of prayer, and I wonder how they’d feel if they knew I binge watched old episodes of Top Chef three nights in a row that week. I write books on prayer, but mostly to teach myself. I’m thrilled when they help someone else along the way. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my own spiritual journey; perhaps you’ll discover some surprisingly valuable tidbit for your own.
Key #1: Stop trying to become a person of prayer.
If I’ve learned anything in the decades I’ve walked with Jesus, it is that setting strict standards, no matter how well-intentioned, sabotages my spiritual walk like nothing else. Not only does all that striving stress me out, but at some point, I fail miserably. And when I do, I’m less inclined to seek the Lord than before. I’ve learned then, to aggressively resist expectations—from within or without—that might serve as some sort of mental marker to measure my spiritual success.
I live by a very simple mandate instead: to know Jesus. I want to look back each day and see how I have connected with his heart and to ponder the ways I’ve shared my own with him. This is prayer in its most basic form, and it fuels every other spiritual discipline for me. Basically, I think we all need to stop trying to become something in our walk with God, and instead, learn how to just be with him.
Key #2: Set up a plan to spend time with God and stick with it.
At first glance, this might seem a contradiction to what I just wrote, but there is a significant difference. Setting a plan isn’t about trying to become something; it’s a way for you to create space for God, knowing that God can change your life. It’s like going to the gym—it is never easy at first, but before long we are convinced that the benefits far outweigh the cost.
But how do we manage to find time in a world of constant motion, incessant busyness and perpetual distraction, when daily demands seem to suck the life out of us every waking minute? The answer is simple, albeit not easy—we just do it. We make time for God like we do for anything else that really matters. We make the time because we know that the well-being of our soul depends on it, that knowing Jesus is what we really need at the core of our being. The alternative is to live outside of ourselves, riddled with stress or beset by a sense of emptiness only God can fill.
To that end, there are some helpful hints. First, if you are new to this, start small, but be consistent. Neural pathways in our brains are formed through repeated acts until habits are established. This means that ten minutes every day at the same time will be much easier to stick with than an hour here and there. The more we can do to follow the plan—same time, place, etc.—the easier it will be.
The second thing is to remember that the only way to establish any spiritual discipline is to rely on the grace that God provides. People who commune regularly with God seem to be keenly aware of their need. While they are willing to make hard choices, they do so with a strong sense of dependence on God and gratitude that because he is inviting them into this relationship, he will give them what they need to continue.
Key #3: God is present…are you?
When I commune in solitude with God, I begin by reminding myself that the he is present, that he waits for me with open arms within the depths of my soul. I don’t have to conjure up some feeling or jump through any hoops to be worthy. God is there, and this is enough. But how do I make sure I am there? In this age of digital distraction, being physically present is only the start of a meaningful relationship with God. It takes a great deal of patience and a lot of grace, but over time, we can learn to focus so that our hearts connect deeply with God.
After I welcome God’s presence, I commune within my own soul to see what is going on. Am I anxious? Frustrated? Distracted? Sad? Whatever I may be in any given moment, this is what I bring to the table, knowing that God receives me as I am. I do not have to pretend to be spiritual or prayerful or holy or zealous—I just have to be myself. This is foundational for authentic connecting with the One who already knows me from the inside out, and is the easiest way I know to ensure that I am present.
Key #4: Focus on God and find yourself.
As beings created in God’s image, it is a wondrous mystery that in knowing him, we can begin to know ourselves. It is easy to get bogged down in prayer when we focus primarily on our struggles, our failures, or even our needs. But as we learn to keep God at the center, to become familiar with his character, ways, attributes and desires—we experience a beautiful shift that enables us to see through his eyes.
Practically, this means I listen more than I speak in prayer. Whether I am reading from Scripture, praying for a friend or expressing personal needs, I try to allow plenty of space to wait on God, listening for that still, small voice to guide my thoughts and desires and to reveal himself as he chooses. God is a fathomless being who transcends us in every way. We will never run out of things to see when we fix our eyes on him. And yet in the light of his glory, we also see our own. To me, nothing is more hopeful or humbling.
I hope these pieces of my heart encourage you. Please know this—God longs for an intimate relationship with you, far more than you have ever imagined, and certainly more than any desire you might have to be a person of prayer. His invitation is eternal and immediate: Come to me, learn of me, and I will give you rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29)
Dive deeper into prayer in The Soul at Rest: A Forty Day Journey into a Life of Prayer by Tricia McCary Rhodes
- The Most Important Tip You’ll Ever Know for Learning to Pray - January 23, 2019
- 4 Keys to Becoming the Person of Prayer You’ve Always Wanted to Be - November 5, 2018