The Challenge of Prayer

A 2020 study from Premier Christian News in the UK found that Christians are less likely to pray than those from other faiths. Just 38 percent of Christians polled said that they regularly prayed. Among other faiths, 52 percent reported that they prayed on a regular basis. I was surprised to see the low level of engagement for something considered so central to our practices. Ask any random group of Christians about their spiritual life and the majority will tell you that prayer is a challenge. Many apparently aren’t spending any time in prayer. Others often struggle with knowing how to pray. We know we should, but we are often like the disciples who asked Jesus, “teach us to pray.”   What causes our hesitation? Are we are concerned about doing it properly? Do we think that prayer is a waste of time? Is it something we only do when we are in trouble? Part of our Western problem is that we believe prayer is transactional. If we spend long enough in prayer or say the right words, then God will give us what we want. Our life will be fulfilled. When this is our only understanding of prayer, we are bound to be disappointed. Benediction Monk, Luigi Gioig offers three words of advice on prayer: Keep it simple Keep it honest Keep it going Prayer doesn’t need to be complicated. God can handle direct talk. For many, honesty in prayer can be difficult. We have to check our motivation. Are we wanting to get something from God or are we really wanting to spend time with God? As the Psalmist prayed: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) If prayer is one of those areas that is a struggle, let me recommend the book, How to pray: a simple guide for normal people by Pete Greig.  Greig has been teaching on prayer and leading prayer meetings for over twenty years. I find his approach to be refreshing and then I find myself wanting to spend time in prayer. This doesn’t have to be a complicated or guilt inducing part of our faith. Yet, prayer needs to be a foundation part of our spiritual disciples. From time to time we can all use some encouragement to keep on going in prayer.  

Reading for faith

Education is always a hot topic. Take the debate over whether children in 2021 need to learn cursive writing. For many people, this is an essential part of learning and expressing yourself. But in the 21st century, there are other ways to write things down. Kids today learn to type with a keyboard on a tablet or phone before they know the whole alphabet.  My personal inclination is that cursive writing may be extinct by the end of the century. Does it matter? My bigger concern is that reading is on the decline. Studies show that the average daily reading time for pleasure is decreasing. I usually have several books on the go and am amazed at how many adults tell me they don’t read. (Meaning, they don’t read for enjoyment or personal development.) I guess that you are a reader since you have made it this far in my article. Most people like to get information or news in the form of videos or podcasts. Entertainment or personal education is now more focused on screens than books. It’s just my opinion but I feel this leaves us impoverished and vulnerable to misinformation. So, all this month I am recommending books for Christian readers. These are books that I think help us develop as Christian disciples. They help us to think about bigger issues and give us tools for making application to our faith. The Psalmist wrote: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) But that doesn’t mean it is always easy to understand what we are reading in scripture. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart), is a basic primer for learning to read the Bible according to the different genres found within. Understanding how to read the Bible is important when wanting to know how to apply the Bible in our life. The book of Proverbs isn’t the same kind of reading as Revelation. Should we follow the laws of the Old Testament or is it okay to eat shellfish today? This book looks at how we can approach our Bible reading and gain more insight. You don’t have to be a theologian to understand it. I have some more recommendations coming for you this month. Maybe you could put one of the books on your Christmas list and start digging in a little deeper in the New Year.