“Prayer is not an event, but a life. It is not a petition but a love relationship with one God, expressed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” 
I love this statement, particularly that prayer is a love relationship with God. It is. Oh, it is.
I have long taught, and known, that prayer is not an event, but an on-going conversation with my closest, deepest friend, father, lover, co-conspirator … God. But the practice of prayer has also been a challenge for me. My brain goes so many places at the same time. If I pray silently when I am alone, I quickly lose focus, I get distracted. “Oh look! Something shiny!” Perhaps it is thoughts about my day, my next activity, things that happened. It helps me to pray out loud, or to journal, because that helps me to focus. It’s interesting, because the most significant conversations I have or ever will have, I have with Someone who I cannot see; who’s voice I do not audibly hear.
For the past three or so years, my church has been without a pastor. We have a leadership team of which I am a member, that takes shared responsibility for our community. We have met regularly the past three years with a coach from our denomination, Dan. One of the first things that Dan asked each of us as leaders to do was to form a prayer team. He wanted each of us to have three to five people, from outside of the church, who would pray for us each week. There were two consistent requests we were to have, in addition to other personal and corporate needs: prayer for protection, and prayer for wisdom. It is based on the acknowledgement that apart from God, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
Early on, finding consistent prayer partners was a genuine challenge for me. There was a desire from others to pray, but a challenge to follow through. Who would be consistent? Even I struggled to be consistent. I shared my struggle with my dearest friend from college, Debbie. She and her husband were preparing to move to Nepal to serve the Lord there. We made a commitment to pray for each other, and we established a structure. Every Monday morning I get up before the sun rises to participate in an on-line chat with my DMin cohort. Mornings, and pre-dawn hours, are not my prime time. But since I’m up, and have consistent open time right after our chat, I pray for Debbie. I write to her, share what is going on, and pray for she and Daniel’s hopes and concerns. And for their protection, peace, and wisdom. Debbie does the same for me every Monday. Now that they are in Nepal, and there is a twelve hour time difference, her email prayer is often waiting for me when I log on in the morning. It is a far better way to start my early Monday mornings. Better, I have found a greater desire to pray outside of that time, both for Debbie and in general.
Interestingly, the quality of our prayer teams has directly correlated with the health of our church leadership team and our church. For me, particularly because of this prayer with Debbie, the past year has brought greater consistency and encouragement. Sadly, others have struggled. Morse notes a comment by George Barna that in all of his research, the most consistent indicator of church growth or success is prayer.  Our leadership team has come under attack in many ways. One person stepped out of leadership. We have prayed for vision and direction, and found ourselves empty. This weekend we will meet with our coach and consider the options, one of which is to bring this small church to a close. It is a difficult place to be.
So you would think that I would focus all of my conversations with God on my church this week. But as I read Morse’ book, I found myself drawn to two specific aspects of prayer. Morse walks the reader through relationship with Father, Son and Spirit, and offers practical insights to pray in groups, with partners, and individually, around specific areas. I found myself focusing on work and rest.
Since my shoulder surgery last month, I have had a really hard time getting back into the swing of things. I wasn’t allowed to drive, or do a whole lot, for three weeks. And then all of a sudden, the same day that I was released to drive, I also started back to work. And then back to school a week later. One of my colleagues is on sabbatical this semester, so I have assumed her administrative responsibilities. The university also did some office re-locations over the holidays, so the first two weeks back at work I was in a temporary office space. Work was full of shifts, and I came home most nights exhausted and with higher pain levels. Work and Rest seemed a good thing to focus on.
Each morning I have taken the first five minutes of my work day to pray. I put a note up in my new office, just for me, that reads, “Five Minutes, and all day.” This seems like such an insignificant thing – five minutes. I have often talked with God about teaching and students, about the university, and my colleagues. But it has been random – as it occurred to me – not intentional. Taking those five minutes to focus, has led to my being more prompted to pray throughout the day. Not every day – not today – but starting my day by intentionally giving it to God overall had an impact.
Each night I have taken time to stop and enter into contemplative or rest prayer. Morse describes this as a time of quieting oneself, being still and silent. She gives some tips on how to focus, and she mentions that this stillness might be difficult for busy people. Our minds tend to wander. Still, I craved rest. I followed the same pattern each night. I got everything ready for morning. I did my physical therapy exercises. And then I laid back and went quiet (with the lights on). Morse mentioned that some people may use a simple phrase to focus on, or a picture. The first night a line from a worship song immediately popped into my mind, “Oh God, You are my God, and I will always love You.” There was a lit candle in the background which crackles. The ambient sound helped me to focus. The first night was great. Not profound, but I felt refreshed. Night two was not the same. I did not have the candle lit, and I struggled to focus. I was actually amazed at how I could “hear” the same worship line in my head and at the same time have thoughts about other things almost playing over the verse. I would re-focus, and at the end, I let myself simply be fascinated. Each night is just a little different, but I hope I will get better at simply resting in God’s presence.
Prayer is not a recipe for success. It isn’t always easy. Maybe that’s why Morse’s description of prayer as a love relationship is so essential to me. You have to want it. You have to pursue it. You cannot take it for granted. Because “it” is not some random thing, it is the holy God of the universe, Creator, Savior, Teacher and Comforter. I long for Him.
 MaryKate Morse, “A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four ways to walk with God,” Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2013, p. 16.
 Ibid, 14.