To observe that prayer is incredibly important but also really tough is a cliche. The cliche begins with noting that God isn’t Santa Clause. We then follow up with the idea that there is nothing wrong with asking God for stuff; we follow this up with the claim that we should have a prayer life that is more than just this.
But there’s a problem with the cliche: Nobody is very clear about what the “more” is. I’m clear that if I’m in relationship with God there should be give and take. I should be listening at least as much as I’m talking in any good relationship.
The problem, though, is that I’m not always able to hear much when I pray. I get in this mode of listening, listening, listening… but there’s nothing.
I truly believe that I’m like a medocre radio. Even the most powerful station in the world can’t broadcast if the radio’s not tuned in. I’m clear that the issue is mine, not God’s.
Sometimes, I am so very tuned in. Some of my most profound experiences of God’s presence and love have come in these times of listening. But most of the time… I just drift off.
My brain takes a little vacation, my mind starts wondering, it’ll be like half an hour later and I’ll discovered I never really intentionally stopped praying… I just faded out. (Marty’s got a great account of his similiar experiences at:
This leads to the question: If I’m not supposed to pray about the stuff I want, and if it doesn’t often work to just try and listen… what should I do?
It seems like the whole world is really asking this question. There’s this whole spiritual formation thing going on right now. It’s kind of exciting, though occasionally kind of new-agey.
I’m reading “The God of Intimacy and Action” by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling right now. It’s about this topic.
One of the practices they suggest in the book is “The prayer of Examen” It’s a practice that was first identified by Ignatius but has clear biblical roots. (They cite a variety of verses which seem to support this activity.)
The idea is that it’s a daily practice. At the end of the day, you look back on all that you did and all that you didn’t do. You list the blessings you recieved and the blessings God gave through you. You consider the things you should have done but didn’t do, and repent for your harsh words and unloving actions.
I guess I’m an expert now, because I’ve done it a grand total of… once.
But I found it to be a really interesting thing. It’s very balanced: it’s not all feel-good, Jack Handy daily affirmation garbage. It challenges us, to, I think, look at our day through God’s eyes.
And while there is that way in which it’s very-in-your-face, it also really helped. I’d been feeling like this day was kind-of brutal. And there were some tough spots. But after an investment of maybe fifteen minutes, I’ve got this different perspective on my day.
I’ve noted much of what I have to be thankful for. (And realized, yet again, that creating a complete list of what I have to be thanful for is literally impossible. We’d never get to the end of a complete list of the things God has done for us.)
I’ve reminded myself of what went right, of the people I helped.
I’ve apologized to God for what I did that was wrong.
I’ve thought about how I’d do it differently next time.
Not a bad investment of a quarter of an hour.