I've discovered that when you talk about prayer, people generally have one of two reactions: boredom or guilt. Those who feel guilty often say things like, "I'm so bad at praying. I don't do it nearly enough." You're not alone if you feel that way. I've discovered that many people who labor in prayer walk away from their labors feeling disappointed and frustrated.
But maybe we are the ones who have turned prayer into a painful, guilt-giving exercise. Prayer, in fact, was meant to be a joyous, life-giving, delightful experience. It was meant by God not to produce guilt, but to relieve guilt; not to rob us of peace, but to leave us in peace; and not to elevate anxiety, but to alleviate anxiety (see Philippians 4:6-7).
Prayer voices our dependence on God, and God likes it. Our heavenly Father wants His kids to depend on Him for everything. So how can you learn to pray more effectively and consistently? Here are some tips:
1. Pray simply. Just be yourself and use simple words from your heart, being honest with the Lord. You can work your way up to having longer conversations with God, but the key is not the length of your prayer; it's the one to whom you are talking.
2. Read Scripture. Scripture reminds you of who you're talking to; it elevates your perspective. The more Scripture you know, the more effective and faith-filled your prayers will be.
3. Keep a journal to write down your requests in, so that in the future, you can look back on answered prayers.
4. Pray in real time. As you come across certain situations and people throughout your day, pray about and for them. As 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Pray without ceasing." This doesn't refer to something that is constantly occurring, but something that is constantly recurring. Make prayer a regular part of daily life.
5. Use a template. I've found the Lord's Prayer (see Matthew 6:9-13) to be an excellent skeleton on which to hang my own thoughts and expressions.
6. Pray aloud. If I confine praying to my mind, I usually get distracted after five seconds by another thought. Talking out loud—which I often combine with taking a walk—helps me stay on target.
My prayer for you is that you would walk away from your encounters with the Lord not filled with grief, anxiety, guilt, or remorse, but joy and peace, knowing that He hears you, He loves when you voice your dependence on Him, and He is in complete control of the outcome.