153. Renewing Prayer

With the start of the New Year, I reestablished various personal, spiritual, family, and professional priorities and recorded them in my journal. Some are tangible measurable goals (survive paying college costs for my sons!), some refer to daily patterns (write and exercise about an hour a day whenever possible), and some represent more general aspirations (spend more time with the family, stay in touch with my parents, etc.). I realize goals and priorities don’t work for everyone, but they do for me.

The first pages of my journal include reflections on what I hope to work on during the year to come, and the last pages will capture my thoughts and feelings about how those priorities, goals, or hopes have been accomplished, avoided, interrupted, sidelined, or surpassed.

One of my personal spiritual goals for 2010 involves renewing my prayer life and adapting better to a life of prayer while keeping the overwhelming schedule of meetings, speaking engagements, and travel that comes with this work. It’s not that I haven’t had a prayer life; in fact, this particular priority recurs almost every year in my journal in some form. It’s that my practice of prayer requires continued learning, reminders, protection, intentionality, development, and reflection.

As often happens when I express an intention in my journal, my recording of the aspiration heightens my awareness of the topic and I begin to notice various people who address what’s on my mind with uncanny timeliness. Such was the case with prayer. I had just finished recording my reflections on prayer for the year to come when I listened to a podcast (Speaking of Faith from American Public Radio with Krista Tippett) while taking a walk in the new year’s cold. This particular program included an interview with Roberta Bondi, retired professor from Candler School of Theology, speaking about prayer.

Dr. Bondi’s reflections were extensive and helpful as she spoke of ancient forms and traditions of prayer. Two particular practical remarks remained with me. First, no matter what your reason for starting prayer, it’s a good reason.

I like the simplicity of that. Some people approach prayer for the first time or return to it after a season of neglect because of personal need or a sense of desperation and others because of curiosity or a desire for experimentation. Some because of loneliness, and others because of thankfulness. Some at the invitation of friends, and others on their own. Some as a last resort, and others as a first step. Whatever your reason for tasting or testing the spiritual life, it’s good enough.

Second, Dr. Bondi reminded listeners that there isn’t any one right way to pray. Some people use written forms from ancient days and others appreciate poetic contemporary expressions or daily written devotions. Some prefer no written or prescribed content and appreciate personal, spontaneous expressions. There are as many approaches to prayer as there are temperaments of people. If you try a style or mode of prayer and it simply doesn’t fit you or speak to you, let it go and try something else.

Dr. Bondi mentioned that sometimes prayer is just a matter of showing up! Sometimes prayer involves no words at all; rather it involves merely inviting God to be with us. Some prayers require focused and concentrated time devoted to God, and other forms of prayer involve a more casual inviting of God into the daily dialogue of living. Sometimes our relationship with God is comforting and sustaining, and other times it is tumultuous and difficult, as the wrestling and nagging examples from scripture remind us.

How has your prayer life been during the past year? How has your practice of prayer changed and evolved? Will you join me as we aspire to a renewed life of prayer that fits your life context in this new year? How will you learn more about prayer?

Yours in Christ,