In 2014, I continued my search for a meaningful prayer life. For over forty years, prayer has been an integral and vital part of my experience in the Christian life. Most of the time, prayer has been a meaningful experience; there have also been times of questioning and periods when my personal prayer life was dry and repetitious. Truthfully, I would admit to a lingering dissatisfaction; an ongoing sense that there ought to be more. My prayer life has not “arrived.” Perhaps this is true because I recognize that prayer is a pivotal element in faith formation. It is a universal truth that we continue to be formed and to grow in our spiritual being; there is always more to experience. James Earl Massey’s book Spiritual Disciplines has been a personal inspiration for me. He devotes two chapters to prayer and fasting and notes that spiritual discipline requires sacrifice, obedience and [gulp!] chastisement. I don’t like discipline! However, I recognize the necessity to be disciplined if one is to grow and go deeper; this is true in all areas of life. It is through the spiritual discipline of prayer that we learn to relinquish self-control for God-control. I also returned in 2014 to Bill Bright’s work through Campus Crusade for Christ on the steps and the guide to personal fasting and prayer. Our congregation participated together in a renewed commitment to prayer and fasting as we studied the nine types of fasting in scripture.
When it comes to prayer, what is the deepest longing and the overwhelming desire of one’s spiritual being? Max Lucado in his new book (also a subject of study in 2014), Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer, focuses the question this way, “[W]ouldn’t we all like to pray more? Better? Deeper? Stronger? With more fire, faith, or fervency?” The answer to the question is “Yes!” but what is the practice that leads to a deeper, richer prayer life? Is it a “simple prayer” life? Lucado suggest that it is by practicing a “simple, pocket size prayer.”
Father, you are good.
I need help. Heal me and forgive me.
They need help.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Each phrase of this simple prayer signifies walking with God through the day by acknowledging God in the morning and thanking God in the evening. Prayer is inviting God into our world and when we do, “He brings a host of gifts: joy, patience, resilience. Anxieties come, but they don’t stick. Fears surface and then depart. Regrets land on the windshield, but then comes the wiper of prayer. … We speak. He listens. He speaks. We listen … Prayer is simply a heartfelt conversation between God and his child.” Or, we might ask, as advocated by Massey and Bright, does a deeper, richer prayer life come through discipline and fasting?
According to MaryKate Morse, there are many ways to experience a rich and meaningful prayer life. There is a resonance with MaryKate in “discovering what it means to be in a love relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” I appreciate her acknowledgement that the prayer journey to a meaningful relationship with God is on-going and worth the effort. I have gleaned insight into the many ways to experience God’s presence through the variety of ways to walk with God. I read the Guidebook to Prayer from the perspective of a relational adventure, not looking for a list of practices that have worked for others. This perception added significantly to applying the text to my personal walk with God. MaryKate states, “Prayer is more than a practice. It is a living adventure with a relational and risen Lord.” Prayer should not be an act often characterized as self-centered lamenting but should be a joy filled experience of discovery. “Prayer is not simply a mental or spiritual exercise. It is physical, mental, emotional, relational and spiritual.” Prayer involves the wholeness of our being in relation to the fullness of God.
Ways to Walk with God is more than a guide to the many ways we journey individually and in community in the discovery of our relationship with God; it is also a journal as we assess our own intentionality and motivation as we individually engage in prayer. The fact is, MaryKate notes, “For most of us the issue is not the abundant presence of God but our limited attention to it [the triune presence of God].” The ways to walk with God are characterized as a road or path into the relational presence of God. “The introduction of various prayer types is connected to the role of the Trinity in prayer— God in the Old Testament for the design and nature of prayer, Jesus in the Gospels as the practice and breadth of prayer, and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament as the guide and power of prayer.”
Prayer is always a community experience. The experiences shared throughout the text help to clarify the various ways to engage in prayer while giving individual and group identity. The opportunities or practices presented with each type of prayer help to have a meaningful prayer experience that accentuates the aspect of community. An example, as I noted above, is simplicity in prayer. Simplicity is being quiet and waiting before the triune God – as such, “Simplicity prayer is a combination of discernment and action through a listening conversation with Jesus … in silence we listen for Jesus to help us see what he sees. … Simplicity prayer unites us to God’s heart and helps us to let go.” Conversational prayer as a way to walk with God also highlights the communal nature of engaging and enhancing our prayer experience. “Praying in community is a conversation shared together about the community’s needs and conducted in sync with the Holy Spirit. We often relegate prayer to the professionals or to private times alone. The Holy Spirit was sent to be with us, among us and in us. At all times and in all places we can connect to the Holy Spirit.”
Why do we prayer? It is true that scripture commands it but just being obedient will perpetrate a joyless and powerless prayer experience. There are numerous reasons that lead to “prayerlessness.” A meaningful prayer experience begins by recognizing that God seeks and designed that we have a relational experience with God. MaryKate notes, “The only way to move from prayerlessness to prayerfulness is to start where we know we are.” A guidebook to Prayer is a good beginning point in 2015 from where we left off in 2014.
 James Earl Massey, Spiritual Disciplines: A Believer’s Openings to the Grace of God (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 1985), 2-4.
 Max Lucado, Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer (Nashville, KY: Thomas Neilson, 2014), Kindle, 198.
 Ibid., 265.
 Ibid., 290-296.
 MaryKate Morse, A Guidebook to Prayer: 24 Ways to Walk with God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), Kindle.
 Ibid., 301.
 Ibid., 146.
 Ibid., 216.
 Ibid., 253.
 Ibid., 263.
 Ibid., 3146.
 Ibid., 4429ff.