“You have a direct line to God, could you ask for some help?” my friend joked as he was going through a difficult time. He isn’t a believer, but in that moment he thought my prayer could really help. He thought my status as a person of faith made me a professional prayer. I keep a list of family and friends that I am praying for, but I have a dirty secret – I am terrible at prayer. I am glad I got that off my chest. As a pastor, I feel like I should be good at it. I feel like I should feel this deep otherworldly connection while praying. Yet many times I feel like I am a kid speaking into a tin can hoping someone is on the other side. I am pretty good at writing prayers or at saying prayers publically, but when it comes to my own spiritual discipline of prayer, it takes work.
For me, prayer is a discipline and an exercise. I have shared that I like to run. I really enjoy getting out, listening to music and putting in some serious mileage. I used to be a short distance sprinter. I actually wasn’t half bad and had four great years on the track team in high school. I remember watching the distance runners training and thinking, “why on earth would you run so far when you can just do a short distance and be done with it?” Running is hard, and it seemed like they were doing too much work. It wasn’t until college that I began to enjoy the discipline of a long run.
It started out slowly – I would run a mile or a mile and a half before working out. Slowly, I was looking forward to the run as much as I was looking forward to the other parts of my workout. I began running fun community races, and eventually, I ran a half marathon. I can’t say I loved every mile, but it was absolutely rewarding to finish and finish strong. In a couple of weeks I will be running another half marathon, and I am currently in the tough part of training. During this portion of training you amp your miles up to around ten. In fact, I ran ten miles yesterday.
I ran by myself along the beach. It was hard and it was beautiful. I recognize how lucky I am to be able to have a body that can run ten miles. After an injury that had me sidelined since January, I have a whole new appreciation for the miraculous nature of the human body. I am slower than I was, but I keep trying. Yesterday as I was running I had the temptation to quit. My mind said “who would know? I could just stop, catch my breath and jump in the ocean,” but deep down another part of me said to keep going because there was something meaningful in finishing. I am so glad I stuck it out, because at the end I was confident that I would be able to run the 13.1 miles that are in front of me in a couple of weeks. I also felt this sense that I had overcome something mentally.
The discipline of prayer is like that for me – I have to be as intentional as I am about running. Running, like praying, feels like it should be easy, like it is second nature; but the reality for me is that prayer takes discipline. Sure there are those moments when prayer is an easy response to circumstance, just like running can be a response to something going on in my environment, but in general taking time to pray requires some set aside focused time. The amazing thing is, as I have been reading up more and more on prayer and listening to the benefits of meditation on podcasts, we are discovering that, like running, the human body is conditioned to benefit from prayer. Our minds build neural pathways as we pray that help us to be more positive and focused. When we meditate on God’s loving nature, we precondition ourselves to see God’s loving nature more and more. When we are thankful in our prayer life, we begin to notice more and more things to be thankful for. As someone who believes that God has created us, I am blown away by the reality that we are predisposed to benefit physically and mentally from prayer. Prayer actually does something. Just like running, there will be days when I want to quit, and for some of the same reasons – who will know if I skip praying? Isn’t there something better I could be doing? But if I persist I am actually building the prayer muscle. I love that. The more I pray the more I begin to see that there is someone on the end of that tin can phone line. So here is to training and trying and not beating myself up for not being a pro prayer.
– For great resources on prayer, please check out the work of www.mikemchargue.com, www.chopra.com/ccl/what-happens-to-the-brain-during-meditation and www.theliturgists.com