When Prayer Feels Joyless
Prayer is mysterious and simple; beautiful and frustrating. We can use a system, set a timer, and position ourselves in a designated place. We see God answer, watch miracles unfold, and feel tethered to Jesus.
And sometimes we just check the box and go on our way. Or we neglect prayer altogether. What’s the point anyway if there is no joy in it?
I won’t have prayer “figured out” this side of heaven, but here are three things that have stolen the joy from my prayers, and some practical ways God has helped rekindle my passion to talk with him.
Over Spiritualizing Prayer
One way I quickly lose my joy in prayer is by over spiritualizing it. Of course, God cares about the salvation of my children and the development of the fruit of the spirit in my life, but he also cares about restoring all of his creation. That means he cares about even the littlest things that are causing us frustration and pain.
My perspective of this changed radically when, in desperation, I asked God to please help my baby be happy in the nursery at church. It seems small, but as our fourth baby, she was the only one who refused to be separated from me for any length of time. I was exhausted. I just wanted one hour to sit in worship and be fully present without a person clinging to me. One morning I held her close to me and prayed over her that the Lord would give her peace in the nursery. Thirty minutes later as I handed her to the nursery worker, she didn’t even flinch. She even reached for the nursery worker who was not a familiar face. After 18 months of her never being willing to let go of me, it felt like a miracle.
It was God’s gentle reminder that he cares about every detail of our lives. Jesus lives to intercede for us. And the Holy Spirit drew near to my baby’s heart and gave her the comfort she needed. It wasn’t a big spiritual prayer. It was a prayer of desperation from an exhausted mom. Bringing God every detail of my day, as simple as they may be, rekindled my joy in prayer.
Limiting Ourselves to a Prayer Life
How often do you find yourself saying “amen” and then never thinking about prayer the rest of the day? When I think of my prayer life, that small box of time is what comes to mind. I do it, and then I move on. However, the joy of prayer doesn’t move on with me.
Paul Miller wrote a book called “A Praying Life” that encourages us to see our whole life as a conversation with the Lord. Those designated prayer times are invaluable and precious, but we don’t have to stop talking to Jesus when the timer goes off or we’ve finished our list of requests. We can continue to talk with him throughout our days and learn the art of listening, recording his answers, and finding the overarching storyline that he’s writing for our lives.
Here are a few fun ideas that I’ve incorporated to help me cultivate a praying life instead of a boxed-in prayer life:
- Take a walk with a friend and adore God together by working through his attributes one alphabet letter at a time.
- Imagine God is a gardener walking through your heart and pulling out the weeds of sin. Let him linger there and prompt you in a time of confession.
- Place Bible verse cards around your house in areas you find yourself doing chores. While washing dishes, folding laundry, or cleaning the bathroom, meditate on that verse and pray it back to the Lord.
- Use last year’s Christmas cards to make a prayer ring for your friends and family. Hole punch each card and connect them using a binder ring.
- Get uncomfortable! Position your body in a different way than you are used to for prayer. Lay face down on the floor, kneel, stand with your hands up or some other position that pushes you out of your comfort zone and leads you to be more vulnerable and open to the Lord.
Forgetting to Listen
The third way I find my joy taken from prayer is by forgetting to listen to God’s response. Prayer is a conversation that implies it goes in two directions. I adore, confess, thank, and request, but God also replies. Through his Word, God reminds me of who he is and what he has promised. He prompts me to act, gives me words to speak, and nudges me toward good works.
I struggled with anger when my first daughter was born. The long nighttime hours of no sleep left me exhausted and bitter. When our second daughter was born I prayed and asked God to redeem the nights for me. I asked him to change my anger into joy. Over the next few babies, God slowly answered those prayers.
I now have several stories of names He brought to my mind while nursing babies. Names that I prayed over even though I didn’t know the details of their needs. Then the next day I would find out that they had sent an urgent email at the very moment I had prayed for them. At other times, the request I had asked of God for my friend, He had done in the very minute of my prayers.
God transformed my heart. Eventually, I found myself eagerly awaiting nighttime feedings. I wanted those quiet moments with the Lord, and I craved the opportunity to sit in the silence and listen for His promptings.
God knows our weaknesses. He knows prayer is hard. But He also knows that being tethered to Jesus is a gift for us and fills us with joy. If you’re struggling with prayer these days, I encourage you to keep praying. Be honest with God about how you are feeling and what you wish your praying life to look like. Jesus loves you and He will renew your joy in prayer.
Would you like to collect with Marissa?
Marissa is a wife and a mom to four girls. Having walked through childhood cancer with her second daughter, Marissa now seeks out ways to comfort others with the gospel comfort she received (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). She writes for Christian Parents of Kids with Cancer (CPKC) as well as on her website. You can find encouragement for your weary heart by interacting with her on social media.
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