Prayer has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. This doesn’t mean I have always been, or even now claim to be a “prayer warrior.” I am definitely a member of the corps, but I have always struggled with regimented or structured prayer.
Still, I pray, and have always prayed. My resume is impressive. I have prayed at dinner tables, picnic tables and communion tables. I have employed prayer wheels (charts that organize key prayer topics), e-mail prayer chains and prayer reminder magnets slapped on my office file cabinets. Others have prayed with me in prayer rooms, on prayer walks and at large prayer gatherings. I have prayed on my knees, on my face, standing, sitting, in a circle, inside, outside, and on my pillow at night. My prayers have risen from hospital rooms, river banks, trains, planes, prisons, grave sides, military bases and highway shoulders. And yes, I have prayed in principal’s offices and in front of more than one police car with a flashing light.
But as I look back over a life-time of prayer, I must admit my prayers were sometimes a formality. There is a big difference between the motion of prayer and an authentic encounter with God. This is not to suggest all of our prayers must leave us feeling profoundly changed by God. In fact, it is contrary to my personality to be in the business of analyzing anyone’s conversations with God. “Authentic” cannot be accurately measured by the human senses. We may loosely define an honest and sincere prayer life, but our attempts to evaluate what makes prayer good or bad can quickly take us into realms where we are grossly unqualified to know the difference.
Still, most of us know in our hearts when we are seeking God, and when we are merely exercising a habit. We also have a general sense of our relation to and posture before God. We long for a healthy and powerful prayer life, yet our apprehensions as well as life’s distractions inhibit us. We could merely accept this reality and move on if it were not for the nagging exhortation of scripture such as Paul’s words in Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”