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How to Pray When You Don’t Feel Like It

Even someone who has written books about prayer occasionally needs motivation. Here are five tips.

When you can't pray
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Sure, I’ve written books about prayer and blogs and devotionals and articles, but still it happens. A crummy day hits when nothing seems right, and I don’t want to pray.

It could be this never-ending pandemic or some political turmoil (which I try not to get too wrapped up in) or a gray winter’s day. “Physician, heal thyself,” I say. Time to take a stab at some of my own best tips.

1)  Write it down.
I keep a small gratitude journal, and I try to put something in it every day, at least one thing. A name, an activity, a favorite book, something I like to eat. But sometimes I need to put A LOT of stuff down.

I’ll take out a slip of paper and ask, “What am I grateful for, God?” and start writing. And keep writing. One of the best cures for the blues or the blahs I’ve ever known.

Once I was seething over something—something that really hurt—and I went to my desk and started scribbling. Before I knew it, I had over 20 items listed, 20 things I was grateful for. It helped put my pain in perspective.

2)  Go to the old standbys.
Jesus knew what He was doing when He gave the disciples—and us—the Lord’s Prayer. I’m astonished at the extent of what it covers in a few words: our daily bread, our need for forgiveness, our fear of evil and the sheer importance of praise. “Hallowed be Thy name.” A reminder of Who’s in charge.

Say it to yourself, just one line of it. Do it while you’re doing the dishes, while you’re washing your hands (the perfect 20 seconds). Do it while you’re driving in the car—and irritated at that guy who butted into your lane.

3)  Complain a little.
The Psalms are wonderful models of prayer—I read three a day while I eat breakfast. I’m always struck with how honest the Psalmist is. If there’s something that bugs him, if there’s anger in his soul, he puts it there. Right in the prayer.

God already knows what you’re feeling. You’re not going to hurt Him. You’re only hurting yourself by sitting in those unaccountable angers and that hurt. Complain to God.

4)  Groan.
This might seem an odd word to use when talking about prayer, but I’m thinking of the Apostle Paul’s words, “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Groan, sigh, grumble. Sometimes when words fail me, I hum to myself. The Spirit can take over. After all, God knows better than I do what I need.

5)  Say less.
A friend at church says she turns to the verse from the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God” and then repeats it, taking one word away at a time so that’s “Be still and know that I am…” then “Be still and know that I…” until it’s “Be still…” or simply “Be…”

It’s a way to get still and put yourself in God’s presence where God knows all that we are and can be. Amen.

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