Prayer: Getting Out of Our RutsAug 10, 2022
Blog by Alan Fadling
There are times when I feel like I’m in a rut in my way of praying. Holy habits are good things. Ruts are when I’m on autopilot and have moved into disconnected ways of praying. I wonder if any of the following ruts sound familiar to you.
More Monologue than Dialogue
I forget that prayer is a relationship and that relationships are conversational. When I pray, it helps to allow space for silence and listening. I don’t fill the air with an endless barrage of words, making the mistake of assuming that more words equals better prayer. I don’t reduce prayer to reciting my laundry list of wants and needs. In fact, some of the most mature pray-ers I know don’t use many words when they pray in public.
More Me-Focused than God-Focused
In An Unhurried Leader I write, “Perhaps that sounds like an odd thing to say. Isn’t prayer, by definition, my saying something to God, asking something of him? Isn’t prayer God-oriented in its very essence? I suppose that’s true, but my prayers can sometimes become more focused on my worries than on seeking my faithful and trustworthy heavenly Father. Prayer has sometimes become only a self-centered admission of my shortcomings, line crossings, and failures without an honest entering into the presence of one who delights to show mercy (Mic 7:18) and longs to be gracious (Is 30:18). My requests can become half-hearted, self-deprecating hopes rather than humble, confident requests of a more-than-generous Father” (p. 150).
Meaningless Spontaneity and Meaningful Repetition
Maybe you’re thinking that the word "repetition” sounds like a rut. My evangelical background taught me to question the written prayers that were used in other traditions. I was often warned about the great danger of meaningless repetition, but I never remember being warned about meaningless spontaneity (which I’ve prayed a lot of) or being told about meaningful repetition. Spontaneity sometimes becomes a sort of religious run-on sentence without much meaning.
Here are a few resources that have helped me engage in meaningful repetition:
I’ve come to deeply treasure the richness of praying the psalms, which over time obviously becomes repetitive since there are only 150 of them! Praying through the psalms can be a wonderful way to increase your prayer vocabulary. Read Psalm 136 aloud. You’ll find yourself saying the exact same line twenty-six times. Praying the psalms can also help you express deep emotions and heartfelt praise to God when you don’t seem to have your own words.
I also appreciate prayer books from certain Christian traditions. If you would like to explore one of the prayer book traditions as a means of enriching your life of prayer, here are a few that I’ve used:
- Phyllis Tickle, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime (for June through September); Prayers for Springtime (for February through May and the Lenten/Easter season); and Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime (for October through January and the Advent/Christmas season)
- Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings From the Northumbria Community
- A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants from Upper Room Books. Provides 56 weeks of prayer guides with Scripture and spiritual readings, and 12-day retreat resources. Two additional volumes are available: A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God and A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk With God.
- The Book of Common Prayer. The current edition in use in the Episcopal church is from 1979. I now use the 2019 revision by the Anglican Church in North America. You can learn more about using the Book of Common Prayer (2019) for daily prayer from this YouTube video.
- Of the ruts I described, which one resonates most with you?
- Is there an insight or an invitation in this post that God may be extending to help you find your way out of that rut?