One key way of getting deeper into your relationship with your Creator is to get deeper into prayer. But sometimes, we're afraid to ask questions about prayer, especially to ask ourselves about how we do it so we can at least find out where we're at right now. Thinking about prayer can carry us further into the mystery of what it's like to have an actual relationship with someone we can't contact with our senses. God places relational treasures at many spots along our journey.
Ask yourself some of these questions, and try the dares - if you dare! There are many of them, but they are of the kind that puzzle people their whole life long. Go through them prayerfully, one by one, preferably with a pad and pencil or a notebook computer. The questions range from simple to very, very hard. I know that when I first asked myself questions like these, I was surprised by my answers. I was surprised by the emotions that came out (and sometimes, by the lack of them). I found out how much I didn't know, or thought I knew, or had simply evaded by pasting up a churchly clichè. I hope that you, too, can discover a lot about yourself, the community of faith around you, and the One who wants to talk with you.
Do you receive it? Do you receive something else?
What do you feel when you do not receive it?
What do you expect from prayer?
Did the Divine response surprise you?
Do you ever just share with God, instead of asking for something?
When you pray, what thoughts most often break in?
Do they spring from the prayer, or do they pull you away from it?
What is the one thing which most puzzles you about praying?
What do you find hardest to accept?
When you pray for someone, do you picture their healing, or being helped in some other way?
If so, can you picture yourself with them as they heal?
If not, is it that you don't believe that healing is possible?
What do you most remember from your childhood about praying or about people who are praying?
Have you ever been so concerned about someone that you felt driven to pray for them?
Is there a catch-phrase that especially gets on your nerves? Why?
Check out at least two of the early Psalms; for instance, Psalm 5 (the main Jewish sunrise prayer), 12 (against treachery), 8 (a praise of God as Creator), or 10 (re the prosperity of the wicked).
What do you notice about what they are asking for, and how they are praying about it?
Do you find any of it disturbing? Why?
Which of these Psalms do you most connect with? Why?
How Close Are You?
When have you most felt that you had lost touch with God? Why?
When have you felt most intimate with God?
How have these moments affected your prayers?
What lessons did you learn, if any?
Have you ever been angry at God?
If so, when did you tell that to God?
What was it about?
Did there seem to be a response, then or later?
Was there ever anything that you felt was personally demeaning or insulting to put before God? Why?
Think of a time when you had something you thought about praying over, but you really didn't want to? What was that about?
What do you think God really thinks of you?
What is the strangest prayer you ever actually heard?
Even deeper prayer questions
When you find yourself really angry over something, have you ever stopped yourself, and taken at least a moment to ask the Lord, "What is happening here?"
When you ask God to forgive you, do you accept that forgiveness? Why or why not?
Have you ever felt afraid to pray?
Is there something you're afraid of, or afraid to ask? Why?
Does anyone else you know seem to fear praying about something?
How do you think you'd feel if God woke you up out of a sound sleep?
If you've experienced this yourself, what did you do next?
What kind of changes happened from it?
When you were ill or in serious trouble, did you ever feel the prayers of others?
What was that like? What were you getting from them?
What other effects did it have?
What have you asked for that, when you look back on it, you're glad you didn't get? Or asked that it would not happen, but you're glad it did?
How would your life be different if God had granted it?
We double-dare you!
(Prayer dares you might think of trying for yourself)
Some dares that anyone can try :
If someone comes to mind right now: Take the time right now to pray for that person.
Take the opportunity to pray with a group of people you don't know.
Maybe you're one of those who finds all this talk about prayer so boring it puts you to sleep. Hmmm..... when you're having trouble going to sleep, pray! (Not about going to sleep, but about other things that matter to you.) Don't worry. God doesn't get insulted if, while you're doing this, you fall asleep.
Do your prayers and/or meditations with a notepad and pencil (or notebook computer), for writing what comes to mind.
When you're listening to a song that presents a situation that happens in real life, pray about those who live in that situation.
If you are not attending a church: let's take up a challenge. Attend a worship service at a church. Any church you choose, chosen for your own reasons.
Within the service, when do the worshipers pray? When does the priest or leader pray?
What do they ask for?
Why do you think they ask for that within a worship service?
In what ways is praying a part of what binds the worshipers together?
If it's a liturgical church (the kind with the robes, candles, and chants), take note of the Prayers Of the Church, which usually happen somewhere between the Sermon and Holy Communion. It is an intercessory prayer, praying to God on behalf of others.
What is it that they are praying for?
What do you think it does for those praying it?
Or for those being prayed about?
If you're a church-goer, dare these:
When some news item really grabs your attention, made you angry, sad, determined: Pray about it -- not just once or twice, but at least once a day for four days, and from then on as long as you feel led to keep doing it.
Try asking someone if you could pray with them --- but only when they're openly struggling with something in their lives, or at some other appropriate moment. (Odds are they'll accept.)
Try praying a section of the Bible (say, a psalm, a prophecy, the Lord's prayer, or a section from Paul's letters), phrase by phrase, with breaks of time in between. Take the time to savor it, and pay attention for the Spirit's leadings.
When you drive by a church, pray for that church -- when you next stop the car, of course -- that they may grow in faith and as people. Also, perhaps for their financial situation, or perhaps that they be lit up anew by the Spirit.
Your church bulletin and newsletter have many activities listed in them. As you read them, pray for each activity, holding them up before God for guidance and for the power to do what they set out to do.
In your worship community, who are the "gifted intercessors" (people whose deeper gift is praying for others)?
What do you think makes it so special when they pray intensely for someone or something?
Pray for them.
Pray with them.
If you are in a church or cell group: ask these:
How and why does your church/cell pray? How often do they meet for it?
Does your church have any goals for their prayer life?
How are these goals gauged or measured?
Are there moments when the group's prayers seemed strangely shallow?
How do they try to change this?
How embarrassed do you get when praying aloud in the presence of others?
Do you ask for different things when with them than in private?
Some groups take on a special burden or concern, like, say, a nation, a missionary, a neighborhood, those struck with certain diseases, etc.. What similar concern most touches the heart of you or those praying with you?
How can the group's/church's prayers best support its purposes?
What was the most intense prayer that your group ever prayed?
What do you think caused that level of intensity?