The Year of Praying Continually -- four things I have learned through eight months

In the beginning of 2014, I announced at Sanctuary and to my friends elsewhere that I was embarking on a journey to find a life of continual prayer. I had read extensively about prayer for 15 years and I was already praying pretty frequently. Still, I was frustrated, and I felt I needed to do something decisive. There's nothing like telling everyone you know that you are committing yourself to something. Vanity can be a great motivator.

Even with my vanity at stake, focus on prayer has ebbed and flowed over this year. But the other day someone asked me how the Year of Continual Prayer is going, and as I reflected on things, I was greatly encouraged. Eight months into the Year of Continual Prayer, I have learned four things.

First, I have to be patient with myself. Praying continually involves one’s whole being – attitude, attention, emotions, etc. One cannot simply flip a switch and be a different person. One has to learn slowly over time to live a different way. So it has been with prayer. I was already committed to Jesus and I prayed frequently, but learning to pray continually is a long, slow process.

We can’t simply will ourselves to practice a life of continual prayer. Learning continual prayer takes commitment and determination, but we have to be just as committed to self-forgiveness as to prayer itself. That is the way it is working for me. Force does not work in prayer. What works is grace, gentleness, and patience – alongside commitment and determination.

Second, I have become acutely sensitive to the harmful effects of hurry and anxiety. In my soul God installed a meter that indicates when overwork and overcrowding of my schedule are causing me to (a) churn too fast on the inside, (b) become anxious, (c) focus on tasks over people, and (d) revert from prayerfulness to control of my surroundings. As Dallas Willard has observed, when God is working on one thing in our lives, he often addresses a different area. He calls it "indirection." It's like God has said to me this year, “If you want to become more prayerful, let’s work on your pace of life.” One of the greatest lessons I have learned this year has been that hurry and prayerfulness do not mix. 

This year at Sanctuary I introduced the Slowing Game and the Resting in God Game. I continue to play them regularly. They are now habits. They have become very important practices as I walk patiently toward a life of continual prayer.

Third, I am actually more prayerful than I was a year ago. I believe God likes to show us every now and then that we are making progress in becoming like Jesus. That's what has happened recently for me. When someone asked me about it and I stepped back to look at things, I happily noticed that prayer is more a part of my hour-to-hour existence. I am in and out of it all day long. There are still days when I have prayer brownouts that are five or six hours long, but those days are anomalies.

There is still a long way to go. My goal is to get to where the worst brownouts are five or six minutes. I'm happy for progress, but if this prayer journey was like walking from Los Angeles to New York City, I feel I am somewhere in Arizona right now. 

Fourth, I am thankful. This year I have learned to pray along with Brother Lawrence, "God, if you don't help me, I will make wrong choices every time." Without God's grace, I would have quit following Jesus. Without God's grace, there would be no Year of Continual Prayer -- or any prayer at all. Without God's grace, we would all be getting as far away from God as possible. 

The more continual prayer is, the more we experience God's presence, power, and peace. Jesus was a walking example of how it all works. May we walk in his footsteps.


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