I have just recently started listening to podcasts. Several people have recommended different podcasts to me (including the Office Ladies Podcast, which I am listening to now), plus two friends and co-workers of mine launched a podcast in January. I listen to each week’s session of “The Bible Guys” now, too.
In last week’s episode, they talked about some habits and rituals that people have when they pray that don’t reflect a real understanding of prayer.
I have written about prayer several times; I never feel like I’m praying quite “right” or “enough.” I am guilty of several of the prayers that they talk about in this episode. One phrase that stood out to me was the expression “anemic prayers.” Clinard and Hullinger make the point that how we pray is a reflection of our theology. Often, an unhealthy prayer life reveals some deficiency in our understanding of who God is.
I can see how this truth plays out in my own life. Reflecting on my spiritual growth over the past few years, my prayer life was at its “strongest” during my separation, before any outcome was known. I have always credited the increased frequency in prayer with the circumstances I faced; I prayed more because life was hard. Now, life isn’t as hard, so I don’t pray as often.
I think there’s more going on here, though. During those dark days, I was also studying the character of God constantly. I listened to audiobooks on theology, I read (and listened to) Scripture, I read books on spiritual growth and development. I was completely obsessed with who God is.
I don’t want to come across as super-spiritual, though. I wasn’t sitting peacefully in my bed, eager to know God for the sake of knowing Him. I wish that were true – and that’s where I hope to land one day – but that wasn’t the motive. I studied that way because I literally did not know what else to do. My emotions were raw and fragile, easily triggered, so I avoided a lot of shows, movies, and music. Silence in the house led me to an unhealthy mental state. I needed something to fill my mind, and I needed it to be safe for my emotions. So I read and listened to A. W. Tozer, Lysa Terkeurst, C. S. Lewis, Beth Moore, and others. And I prayed, often out loud and never very refined.
Now, my emotions aren’t so fragile, and I can enjoy entertainment without major emotional triggers (most of the time – the entertainment industry makes light of adultery regularly, and that will always be hard for me). I am more connected and engaged with different groups of friends and family, spending less time home by myself. The result is that I am not spending the same amount of time getting to know the character of God as I once was, and I pray less often. And sometimes I pray stupid, thoughtless prayers.
I find myself focused on behaviors that reflect spiritual growth, rather than focusing on spiritual growth itself. I get concerned that I haven’t read my Bible for this specific amount of time, or that I didn’t spend a certain amount of time in prayer. I feel that my prayers aren’t lofty enough to be productive. Rather than focusing on why prayer matters, and the need for a deeper, more loving relationship with God, I focus on external behaviors. I miss the point.
The goal is to build a closer relationship with God by getting to know Him better, and by loving Him more deeply. That must always be the priority.
More than anything, my takeaway is this – rather than focusing on doing “spiritual” behaviors, I want to focus on who God is and let spiritual disciplines grow out of my connection with Him. I can worry less about getting prayer “right” and enjoy the process of building a relationship with God instead.
** Shameless plug — I encourage everyone to check out The Bible Guys podcast. You can follow them on Instagram and Twitter, and find the podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts (among others). **