From the Archives: Vital Prayer—A Conversational Relationship with God

By Richard Willowby

Vital Christianity requires a vital prayer life. Most of us pray. It’s a daily habit: at meals, when we go to bed, in church—and fervently in times of desperation.

Some of us feel guilty about our prayer life. It is not regular enough, or long enough, or not spiritual enough. Guilt trips have been laid on us and unrealistic ideals of what prayer time should be like have been given as models for us. I once was told that Martin Luther said (probably a misquote), “I have so much to do today that I must pray at least seven hours.” Or perhaps you have heard that E. Stanley Jones spent two hours in prayer every evening—even when he was a guest at someone’s dinner party.

We make promises to God and to ourselves to start tomorrow. We go at it with the best intentions—only to give up in failure and more guilt.

If you have daily devotions or a “quiet time,” I applaud you. If you don’t already practice this discipline, you are not likely to jump into an hour of prayer every day.

Vital prayer is conversation with God. Conversation implies two-way communication. If prayer is limited to perfunctory habit, it has merit because our habits help shape us. If prayer is a recitation to God of Psalms and other readings, it has merit because the great thoughts of others can help us form our thoughts and voice our needs and hopes.

When we become conscious of the constant presence of God, however, speaking to God as we would speak to a good friend and companion becomes natural for us. This form of prayer is often casual and unplanned—the way we speak to our wife or husband, to our coworkers or golf partners.

The more we develop a conversational relationship with God, ironically, the more we find meaning in planned prayer times. When we talk to God as we are driving or washing dishes or riding on an elevator, we are much more likely to have something to say to God when we try to pray for half an hour.

The focus we are looking for is the intimate involvement of God in every aspect of our lives. God is eager to be a part of our lives and is waiting only for an invitation from us.

Getting started

If you want to begin a regular prayer time, here are a few suggestions on how to begin.

  1. Choose a place where you will not likely be interrupted.
  2. Choose a time of day that can be regular.
  3. Read a related passage of Scripture.
  4. Make a list. Include persons and needs for which you wish to pray and especially list items for which you are thankful.
  5. Be conversational. After reading the Scripture passage, go over your list with God, telling for what and why you are thankful and asking God to work on behalf of the person and needs you have listed. Ask, too, for God’s leading in your life.
  6. Listen. Sit in silence for a few moments, thinking about God and your life—waiting for God to speak to you.
  7. Don’t force it. When you are finding concentration difficult, stop. Be sure to continue tomorrow.
  8. Be consistent. Spend some time every day. Soon you will have more to say to God each day and will be hearing more from the Holy Spirit.

An author and ordained minister, Richard Willowby served as editorial manager and as director of product and sales for the church ministries division of Warner Press. Article originally published in the January 1993 issue of Vital Christianity. Republished by permission.

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