By Karen O’Connor
I flipped to the new page of my devotional calendar on the kitchen table (Spirit of Ireland: A Treasury of Wit, Wisdom, and Irish Blessings) and read these words: “Many people consider prayer a last resort, but God meant for it to be our first and surest line of defense.” My mind flashed back to a timev when I, too, thought of prayer as a last resort instead of a first defense. I sometimes muttered a few words when I was in dire need: “Please God, take care of my dad so he won’t die before I grow up.” “God, help me pass this math test and I’ll never ask a favor of you again.” “Lord, I’m desperate. My husband has left the kids and me. Now what?”
I learned about prayer in parochial school and in church with my parents. And when told to, I folded my hands in obedience, repeating the rote prayers I had learned. I was able to memorize words easily—but understanding them was another matter. Most of the time I was busy with my life, being a kid, then a teen, and finally an adult with family responsibilities.
It never occurred to me to build a prayer life that was truly mine—my own conversation with God, personal and private. That is until I met a special woman who became my mentor after I made my commitment at age 42 to follow Christ. We often sat together, held hands, and talked with God as friends, telling him our fears and worries, thanking him for blessings of health and work, and asking for his guidance and direction when we faced confusion and hurt.
I had never prayed that way before. In fact, I couldn’t imagine that God would accept such prayers. I had been trained to believe it would be disrespectful to talk to him as a friend. Only members of the clergy could lead us in prayers that were printed in a book or repeated while fingering a set of rosary beads.
However, I liked what I was learning from my mentor. I loved knowing that God responded to personal conversations. I was excited to think I could talk to God as easily as I could talk to my husband or best friend. And so began my personal journey of drawing near to God through prayer. Over the years I have experienced and experimented with many avenues of prayer—each one helping me stay connected to the Lord no matter what is going on in my life. Prayer is now my lifeline and I use it everyday—as I drive, cook, write, clean house, or play. Praying is as natural to me as breathing. Here are some of the expressions of prayer that have meant the most to me. Perhaps they are among your favorites.
Speaking to God from my heart transformed my relationship with him. I was no longer self-conscious, wondering if I was saying the right words. I just talked to him as a friend. “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). If God calls me friend, then surely I can speak to him as a friend.
One year I bought a journal and started writing letters to God. I didn’t plan the words. I just let them flow. I told him about my hopes and dreams, my challenges, my sorrows, and I asked for guidance.
The act of writing made my prayers even more meaningful for me. After a few moments, I’d put down my pen and wait—hoping the Lord would speak to me. I didn’t expect an audible response, but rather an impression on my heart. I was surprised to discover that when I remained silent, God did speak—sometimes words of comfort, a Scripture reference, or direction for the day. I jotted them down so I could return to them again and again.
My husband and I discovered prayer walks together. We got up earlier than usual a few mornings a week and took a walk on the beach near our home. While walking one morning we decided to take turns praying out loud.
What a blessing that turned out to be. As I prayed, Charles heard what was on my heart and as he prayed, I learned more about him. Prayer walking not only drew us closer to the Lord, but to one another as well. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16, English Standard Version).
During a very difficult time in my early days as a Christian, when I was still sorting out the pain of the past (divorce, separation from two of my children for a time, a broken relationship with my father, and plenty of resentment about my religious upbringing), I made a new friend at church. She had a similar history and so we bonded quickly and agreed to be partners in prayer.
Today, some 30 years later, we still pray with and for one another—aloud when we’re together and by phone or silently when we’re apart. It feels good to have someone in my life that knows me so well that she can pray for me even without a list of my needs in front of her. I do the same for her. When I think of my prayer partner, Dianna, this verse comes to mind: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4, ESV).
Prayers of Praise
Often in my life I get caught up with confession and petition and neglect praise. So this year I am making a point of turning to God in prayers of praise and thanksgiving—calling out or writing down all the blessings I’ve received—from good health to success in my work, from a loving church body to good friends who stand together, from family support to peace in our neighborhood, and much more.
Now my list of praises is longer than my list of requests! God is a faithful Lord over all of my life and I praise him for it. “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” (Psalm 95:2, ESV).
Drawing near to God in prayer is as easy as opening your mouth, your heart, and your hands, and then lifting yourself to him in humble adoration.
Karen O’Connor is a freelance writer from Watsonville, California. www.karenoconor.com
Your Personal Prayer Journey
1. What is your favorite aspect of prayer?
2. What do you find most challenging about prayer?
3. How well is your prayer life balanced? Do you focus on a good mix of positives and negatives; requests and praises; self-, others-, and God-focused ideas; talking and listening; solitary and communal prayer; and so on?
4. What three words would you use to describe your prayer life? What words would your friends or family members use to describe your prayer life? What words would Jesus use?
5. What key truths about prayer would you share if someone asked what prayer is or how you pray?
6. What questions or doubts about prayer do you have that you’re afraid to express to others?
7. Has God given you any direction in prayer that you’ve followed? Any that you’ve ignored?
8. What ways do you want to grow in your prayer life?
9. Who can you ask to hold you accountable to growth in your prayer life?
10. Whom can you spur on to grow in their prayer life?