Many people wish they could spend more time in prayer but are concerned about squeezing it in to an already crowded calendar. This advice from United Methodist pastors and church leaders will help you move toward a deeper prayer life.
Make prayer a priority
Those hoping to find time for prayer will likely fail. You have to make time. "I like to compare it to exercise," said Jan Reed, leader of the Centering Prayer Group at University United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. "We need exercise to keep our bodies healthy," she continued. "We need prayer to keep our souls healthy."
Reed recently asked her prayer group "what they would suggest for newcomers to prayer, and most of them said, 'Just do it!,'" a slogan of a brand of apparel one might wear while exercising. The connection to our health may be stronger than we know.
Make an appointment with God
Set aside a specific time to pray. It may be first thing in the morning, in the evening, during your lunch break, your commute, or time spent waiting for the kids. Be creative. Then put the appointment in your calendar and keep it.
Find a sacred place
The Rev. Joseph Kim of Manlius United Methodist Church in New York encourages us to have a place to pray as well. "My closet," as Kim calls his prayer space, "is the front of the altar in the sanctuary." But not all of us have daily access to our church buildings. "Wherever this would be," Kim continued, "whether it is home, work, or in the car, finding your closet and time are important to deepen your prayer life."
Turn off the television
Remove distractions and pray. Reed reminds us, "We often spend at least 20 min a day doing insignificant things – checking emails, puttering around the house, watching TV, surfing the internet, etc." We could instead invest that 20 minutes in deep communion with God.
The Reverend Olinda Salazar-Veliz, Pastor of Hispanic Ministries at White Plains United Methodist Church and pastor of Luz del Pueblo in Cary, North Carolina, encourages us to pray through this struggle. She offers this example, "I want to grow more to follow you in better ways... Please, forgive my distractions, putting as excuses my daily chores. Allow me to approach more actively in your teachings and in the practice of them."
Pray with a group
Being part of a group may help motivate you to pray. Hixson United Methodist Church in Tennessee saw a group of moms come together to pray for their school-age children and the schools they attended. Years later, though most of their children have graduated, the moms still pray together every Friday morning. If you cannot find a group to join, start one by inviting some friends to pray with you.
Pray as a family
Another group to pray with is your family. Send the children off to school with a moment of prayer. Give God thanks in the evening for all the blessings of the day. Pray with your spouse as you read the morning paper over breakfast. Pause to pray as you watch the evening news.
Keep your Bible and prayer journal handy
Many people miss exercise classes because they cannot find their yoga mat or car keys in time. We can also significantly cut into our prayer time while looking for what we need. Keep your Bible, journal, and other tools where you can quickly locate them.
Keep the conversation going all day
The Rev. Ginger Pudenz, Associate Pastor at Platte Woods United Methodist Church in Missouri, encourages people to pray throughout the day with Twitter prayers. "I occasionally use Twitter to send a reminder to pray," she reports. "A few faithful followers have shared that it is a pleasant interruption to see that tweet and know that they are being called to pray with others in real time." Short prayers throughout the day are a great way to increase your prayer life.
Pray your calendar
If you are concerned about having time, pray for it. Pray through what the day ahead will bring – your meetings, children's events, doctor's appointments, and the like. A few moments in prayer may be just the right medicine to still your spirit despite a hectic schedule.
J.D. Walt who writes a daily devotional called The Daily Text for Asbury Theological Seminary's Seedbed.com says his daily posts are a "way of sowing the seeds of Scripture into the people of God in ways that are sprouting up into all sorts of creative prayer and work in the Kingdom." Experiment with some helps to find what works for you.
Experiment with different methods
There is no right way to pray, as there is no right way to have a conversation with your best friend. The Upper Room Living Prayer Center offers examples of several different methods. Experiment with fresh ways to connect with God.
Kim warns against viewing prayer time as just another box to check on a spiritual to-do list. "When you approach prayer as your Christian duty, you would not enjoy its time," he said. "You need to see prayer life as special time for dating with God." He continued, "God who loves you dearly wants to spend time with you and to hear everything about your life." Change your mindset from having to spend time with God, toward getting to.
Change takes time. There will be days when you will fall short. When that happens, forgive yourself and keep going. Remember the benefits of the deeper prayer life you seek. As Reed pondered her prayer group she said, "I think [its popularity] reflects the need for us in our hectic and busy society, to slow down, let go of frustrations, anxieties, and any of the crises we might be facing in our lives, and reconnect to God."
Setting aside more time for prayer will change every other part of our day.
*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. He may be reached at [email protected] or 615.312.3733.
This story was first published on December 22. 2014.