I believe that prayer is the single greatest gift God has given us, next to the gift of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. I believe in God’s power to transform the person who prays, and in the power of prayer to change the fabric of reality as we act as a conduit for God’s kingdom to be manifest here on earth as it is in heaven.
And yet far too often I talk about prayer more than I actually pray.
I co-host a podcast about prayer, and it gets me digging and researching and thinking and writing and speaking about prayer, but when it comes down to it, prayer doesn’t always come easily for me. It’s not for lack of belief or faith or desire.Candid Confession: Far too often I talk about prayer more than I actually pray. Click To Tweet
For me, I think it boils down to the busyness of the day-to-day keeping me from stopping and praying. It’s like that phone call you know you should make to the friend you haven’t spoken to in a while: there’s so much to say, you want to wait until you have a good chunk of time before really giving it your full attention. So you end up not calling, and before you know it, weeks have gone by.
I call this “prayer-alysis.” It’s when you feel paralyzed, and unable to pray.
The Antidotes To 5 Types Of “Prayer-alysis”
I think there are several reasons for “prayer-alysis.” I think recognizing them is the first step toward walking in the fullness of the relationship God wants to have with us through this precious gift.
1). Marathon Aversion
I think prayer can be broken down into two basic types: “marathon prayers” and “sprint prayers.” We need both kinds to have a thriving relationship with God. Think of marathon prayer as the long conversation with a good friend I was talking about earlier.
This kind of prayer takes time, energy and focus (more on focus later…), and we can become paralyzed at the thought of carving out that kind of time to pray – so we put it off indefinitely. Just like the put-off conversation with the dear friend, weeks can pass and our good intentions to pray never materialize.
The Antidote: The One Minute Prayer
My podcast co-host Alana came up with this incredible tool for Marathon Aversion. She sets a timer for one minute – you heard me right, just sixty seconds! – and just prays.
If you want to choose a theme for these one minute prayers you can have a prayer list handy to pray through, or if you have a topic you’ve been meaning to bring to God or one person in particular who needs prayer you can simply decide your topic or person, set the timer…and go!
This works great for prayers of gratitude, thanksgiving, or confession as well. If you’ve never done this, you will be amazed at how much praying you can do in one focused minute.
This isn’t to say that we don’t need marathon prayer. To say that our busy day shouldn’t be interrupted by a conversation with God is ridiculous! Sometimes we need to prioritize that kind of prayer and make sacrifices in our schedules. But the “sprint prayers” are important too, and any prayer is better than no prayer. I also think you’ll find it’s a gateway prayer; as you get started, you’ll want to (and be reminded to) pray more frequently and in more depth.
Prayer guilt is based on lies straight from the Pit – and yet it’s so common, and so real. It can manifest itself in many ways, but often comes as a voice inside your head telling you that God couldn’t possibly want to hear from someone like you who’s made so many mistakes or drifted so far from God’s best for your life. Or maybe the voice says that you’re selfish for wanting to talk to God when you only ever come to Him when you need something.
Do any of these sound familiar?
The Antidote: Read God’s Word
The cure for lies is Truth.
Try reading through Luke 15. In the story of the prodigal son, imagine yourself as the prodigal coming home to God. Does He look angry? Is He rolling His eyes or shaking his head? Of course He isn’t! He’s waiting with tears in His eyes and arms open wide, ready to embrace you, no matter how far or for how long you’ve wandered.
In the parable of the lost sheep, take heart when Jesus the Shepherd leaves the others in search of the wandering one. You are priceless to Him. Satan would love for you to build a wall between yourself and communication with God, and guilt is a very effective tool. Don’t believe it for a second. Remember who God is, and Whose you are – and go to Him in prayer. (Like now!)
3). Struggle to Focus
Do you struggle to focus during prayer? You aren’t alone. In fact, this is the number one prayer struggle Alana and I get from our listeners.
I’m pretty sure nobody struggles with focus as much as I do. My brain is always working overtime, and I live so much of my life in my own head. When I sit down to pray and try to quiet my brain, immediately all the thoughts I’ve kept at bay while going about my busy day begin swirling around chaotically. Grocery lists, things I need to do, you name it.
There are some great tips and tricks I’ve discovered along the way to help get focused – things like writing down the “to-dos” that come to mind as you’re praying so you can move on and deal with the other thoughts later. But by far the most effective antidote to a struggle to focus in prayer is a mindset shift.
The Antidote: Look at Prayer as Exercise
If you decided to get your abs into shape and began a series of crunches, would you consider the lying down part of your crunches to be a failure? Of course not. To build muscle, you need the sitting up and the lying down.
You can look at distractions in prayer the same way, as a type of training. Every time your mind wanders and you gently bring yourself back into God’s presence, consider it exercising your prayer muscles. The more you do it, the easier it will get and it’s not time wasted at all, but time well spent cultivating the discipline of focusing on God through prayer and meditation.
“If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour will be very well employed.”St. Francis de Sales
4). Prayer Overwhelm
Even the most seasoned, faithful, disciplined prayer warriors experience “prayer-alysis” from time to time. If you’re one of these women who is passionate about prayer, your struggle may come in the form of prayer overwhelm. You might have an ever-growing prayer list that gets to the point where you can’t possibly dedicate time to every single topic and person, and you can’t figure out where to begin. Or you might be an empath who reads the news headlines and can’t imagine that the prayers of one person could even make a dent in all of the pain, suffering and brokenness in the world.
The Antidote: Ask God to direct your prayers
Remember that we are partners with God in the spiritual battle, not out there all on our own.
While God has given us the amazing gift of prayer, not every battle is ours to fight; we couldn’t possibly be the personal prayer warrior for every single person, issue, or topic on the planet!
God has put specific people in your life, specific prayer burdens on your heart that are for you. There may come a time, particularly if you believe in the power of prayer and feel deeply for others, when you might have to go through your ever-growing prayer list and ask God to impress on you a smaller number of people to concentrate your prayers on.
If you can’t bear not to pray for everyone, consider rotating your prayers on a weekly or monthly basis so you can tackle a smaller number of prayers and pray more thoroughly for each one. There are lots of other ideas for you in an episode of the podcast called How to Pray for Current Events Without Feeling Overwhelmed.
The bottom line is this: if we try to decide on our own what to pray about, we could clutter our prayer lives with lots of good things – and totally miss out on God’s best, on His divine appointments!If you've ever felt unable to pray, check out these 5 antidotes to "prayer-alysis" Click To Tweet
5). Emotional, Physical, or Spiritual Exhaustion
When our minds, bodies and/or spirits are weary, it can affect our ability to pray. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, illness, stress, fatigue, or other energy-draining circumstances, mustering up the energy to praise God, give thanks or even formulate the words in your mind to say might just be too much to ask. You might be dealing with disappointments in prayer after years of pouring your heart out to God, only to be met with silence. Whatever the cause, exhaustion in its many forms can paralyze us in our prayer lives.
The Antidote: Rest
The specifics of what you’ll need during these times will vary, but the common denominator is rest. Sometimes that means asking others to pray for you when you’re all prayed out. Other times it might mean silently sitting in God’s presence and allowing the Holy Spirit to translate our feelings into prayers:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.Romans 8:26 (NIV)
There could be times when changing up how you pray helps put the spark back into your relationship with God – taking a nature walk and thanking Him for the beauty of creation, or calling a friend and praying together over the phone.
But whatever you do (or don’t do) during these times, ditch the guilt. There are seasons for everything, and our prayer lives ebb and flow. It’s a living, breathing relationship and the important thing is not to be closed off to God, but to draw close to him, to rest in Him.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
Join the Conversation
So how about you? Have you ever experienced prayer-alysis? If so, could you relate to one of the types I’ve listed, or do you have one to add to the list? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!