Praying is all too often a self defeating exercise. Many of us have been programmed to pray according to a set ritual or form. Many times the form becomes a substitute for effective prayer. I believe prayer is as much an exercise of the mind as it is of the spirit. The mind is the center of divine activity and the avenue to the spirit. In the realm of the spirit supernatural power of God is unleashed to transform our inner state and provide wisdom to deal with our circumstances. So how should we pray?
1. Dealing with Doubt
Doubt is one of the main barriers to successful prayer. Realize that doubt is an activity of the mind and is learned based on experience. Learn to distinguish doubt and unbelief. Doubt implies uncertainty; unbelief is a fixed position of the mind. Learning to accept and live with the uncertainty created by doubt is the price of spiritual growth. The example of John the Baptist provides us with insight here. As the forerunner of the Messiah, John announced fearlessly and with conviction that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah yet when he was cast into Herod’s dungeon and languished there he began to entertain doubts. Finally he sent two of his disciples to question Jesus, “are you really the one or should we look for another?” His period of incarceration introduced doubt where none existed before. The strongest in faith can experience doubt, but it should be not allowed to separate us from the love of God and render our prayers ineffective.
2. Understand the Relationship between Faith and Doubt
Lilian Smith notes "Faith and doubt both are needed, not as antagonists, but working side by side to take us around the unknown curve." Living spiritually requires being comfortable with uncertainty while at the same time believing in the divine agenda for one’s life. Faith and doubt are held in a dynamic tension. Doubt teaches us to expect the unexpected while faith provides the internal stability to transcend them. Faith is the main ingredient of prayer that keeps one connected to the divine especially when the unexpected happens.
3. Think About what You are Praying About
Prayer is often reserved for times when things go wrong in life. As such it is invoked to deal with whatever it is that’s causing distress or discomfort. The usual approach is to pray for the thing to be healed, cured, fixed, or removed. Effective prayer is more about me than my circumstances. It teaches me the joy of acceptance even of those things that may cause me significant discomfort. Thus in prayer my focus challenges me to look inward and seek for deeper meaning in my distress. The serenity prayer is a beautiful illustration of this principle, ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
4. Pay Attention to the Words
Words are powerful vehicles that carry messages to the mind, often with unintended meaning. The words we speak in prayer program the mind to respond in predictable ways to the prayer itself. Specifically, one should be careful not to let the prayer be simply a regurgitation of the difficulties in ones’ life or repeating pat phrases or getting caught up in the popular “name it and claim it” approach. But use words designed to shift the mind to an attitude of openness to God’s will.
5. Consider Prayer as Communion
Prayer is an opportunity to connect with the power that is transcendent and imminent. God is beyond us yet among us and connecting with the divine source of love, forgiveness and acceptance is an opportunity for healing, growth and transformation beyond our wildest dreams.
There is no question that our prayer life can be a wonderfully transformational experience, the issue is, are you ready to pray in a manner that will open you to receive it?
Conroy Reynolds MA, MS is a Chaplain, Counselor, and Author. His latest book, "Finding God in the Night," delves into spiritual issues that affect the journey of healing when the challenges of life have wounded the spirit.
For more information http://www.outskirtspress.com/findinggodinthedark