How To Get Your Prayer Out Of A Rut

I don't know about you, but I have the tendency to get myself into ruts. I find myself eating at the same 2 or 3 restaurants on a weekly basis, or I realize that I've been checking the same handful of websites over and over throughout the day.

The most problematic rut I get into involves the snooze alarm function on my phone.

When it goes off, I snooze a few times. To counteract this, I set the alarm earlier, which leads to more snoozing, which leads to an earlier start time.

After a while, my alarm is going off an hour and half before I actually need to get up, but being snoozed 8 or 9 times before I actually get up.

Every couple of years, it gets to a point where I declare alarm clock bankruptcy. I set the alarm to go off when I actually need to get up. It works for a few weeks or months before I decide to back it up a few minutes to accommodate the snoozing that inevitably follows.

Your ruts probably don't look exactly like mine, but we can all find ourselves stuck in a repeating, unthinking cycle.

10 Ways To Hear From God

man-thinking-looking-off-in-distanceHearing what God is saying to us is important, I've never met a follower of Jesus who didn't feel this way. But what do we do when we don't seem to have our radio tuned to the right frequency? What are some ways we can seek to hear what God is saying to us if he's not writing his words with lightning in the sky? Below are some ideas of ways we can proactively seek to hear God in our lives:

1. Other people

God has a history of speaking through other people: prophets, writers of scripture, etc. Why would God call us to live in community if he didn't intend to speak to us through that community? I intentionally talk with a select group of people about my life in order to get their perspective - and they want mine in response. They have other gifts and talents than I have - which is exactly what God intended (see the Body of Christ chapter in 1 Corinthians 12). They can speak out of God's gifts into my life.

2. Music

best-headphones-under-100Music can stir our souls. It can inspire us and move us. I dare you to go watch Rocky or Star Wars on mute during scenes with music to see the difference. God made music to have these properties. Go crank up a worship album or classical music spotify playlist and let yourself be swept up into the thundering beauty of strings or drums or rhythm instruments.

3. Church

I know many people who love Jesus but don't love church. I get it. I was there myself at a couple points in my life. But church is important. Some kind of gathering based on faith in Jesus is crucial in our lives. Jesus tells us that where two or more are gathered in his name, he's there as well. The technical term for that is a 'commanded blessing'. God is saying, when you do the following thing, I guarantee I'll respond in this particular way. God has also given gifts to men and women like teaching and encouraging (see Ephesians 4:11). If you're not around these people, you're missing out on God speaking to you through their gifts. Being in a crowd of people who are seeking Jesus is a great way to make a connection with what God is saying to you.

4. Books

Books are amazing things. They can put thoughts of other people into your own head. Another term for this is 'gaining new perspectives'. Other people may see God in different ways than you have ever seen him. Maybe you are seeking answers to questions and others can offer you thoughts on some answers you have never considered. When I was dealing with a great deal of frustration as I worked at a job that I hated, I started to read a lot of books. They changed my life. Seeing God from other angles than my own showed how much bigger he is than I realize from where I stand.

5. Art

large-art-canvas-painting-3I have a canvas picture on my wall from the artist Banksy. It's an image of a freedom fighter with a bandana covering his nose and mouth, getting ready to hurl something. You'd expect there to be a rock or a molotov cocktail in his hand, but instead there is a bouquet of flowers. I love the picture. It makes me think, it creates questions within me. And it is in those spaces which are created that God can speak to me.

6. Nature

This is a personal favorite of mine. I love to go out in nature. My favorite time is when the world is asleep and the sky is full of stars. I look at them and realize that each one is huge ball of burning gas, millions of miles away. I can't even fathom the size or the distance or one, yet there are hundreds and thousands in my sight...and the God who made each one is bigger than the universe. It takes me to a place of utter and absolute awe. David writes in Psalm 19:1 "The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship." Nature is big and beautiful and it points me to its creator.

7. Thinking

As an analytical person, I like to go out on a walk (nature - #6) and invite the Holy Spirit into my thinking. If I have a problem I'm trying to solve, or I'm simply considering what I'm supposed to be doing in life, I'll just start to think about it; and I trust that God is able to guide my thoughts like a river in a river bed. God gave you your brain. He talks about renewing your mind when you follow him. The thoughts you think exist because God breathes life into you. This is why I specifically ask people, has God been telling you something or showing you something? Sometimes, he will speak to us through our own process of understanding.

black woman reading Bible8. Bible

I know, cheating, right? I intentionally didn't list this one near the beginning of this list, but there's no doubt it's important. God did not give us a textbook to study for a test. I love how N.T. Wright says that the Gospel is Good News, not Good Advice. God gave us written scriptures for a reason. He wants us to read them because he wants us to know some important things. I would encourage you to read the scriptures regularly and not just by opening your bible randomly. Read through the books. See the story God is sharing with us and inviting us into, not just a couple lines out of context.

9. Revelation

Maybe you've heard God audibly speak to you. Or maybe you've had a vision. Perhaps you've had a situation where a thought suddenly filled your head and you couldn't avoid it. If God wants to tell you or me something important, nothing will stop him from doing it. Usually, the part we play in this event is to choose whether or not we will be obedient. Jonah, of Bible fame, initially made a bad choice in his situation. I've had a couple times where I did the same thing. Jonah and I may have the stubbornness trait in common. I encourage you to just say yes if God shows you something clear as day.

10. Prayer

Okay, I know. We could call all of the previous points 'prayer', or we could say that prayer needs to be part of every other point. You may be right. But here's what I mean with this one: Prayer is about the heart more than the head. Thinking and writing and considering and reading all have a large component of intellect, and that's good. But Paul talks about Christ living in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17). And if Jesus lives in our hearts, then when we speaks to us, it will probably sounds like our own heart is talking to us. Prayer involves getting quiet enough to learn the difference. It would be easy to do all the other stuff on this list while trying to actually avoid the moment of getting quiet and vulnerable to let God say something maybe we've been trying to avoid hearing.

Prayer is being open to God, and listening to him. He can speak in many different ways to us (hence this list), but if we're not listening, the value is lost.

God wants the best for us, so we must learn not to fear what he asks us or tells us. So let us have the courage to be open to what he is saying at any given time.

The Echoes of God

echo1 Kings 19 tells the story of the prophet Elijah. Elijah reaches a point in his life where he’s depressed and frustrated - to the point where his only prayer left is asking God to let him die.

God summons Elijah to a particular mountain and tells Elijah to prepare for God’s arrival.

As Elijah stands inside a cave, awaiting the arrival of the almight, a hurricane wind arrives and literally shatters rocks on the mountain. But the scripture says that ‘God wasn’t to be found in the wind’.

So Elijah continues to wait.

Next, a great earthquake rocks the mountain. But God wasn’t in the earthquake.

So Elijah continues to wait.

A great fire rages across the mountain next. But God wasn’t in the fire.

So Elijah continues to wait.

What happens next is that God shows up. Not in a show of force and power, but in a quiet whisper.

As soon as Elijah hears the quiet whisper, he covers his face out of great respect and walks to the mouth of the cave to meet with God.

I often have people asking me how to hear from God. I believe God is constantly speaking within all of us. It simply requires us to listen to the whispers in our heart.

This voice mixed with the essence of who we are, and it sounds very much like our own inner thoughts when it arrives.

To an analytical person, it will be analytical. To an emotional person, it will be emotional.

The secret to hearing from God is simply to listen. God’s thoughts will be found within you, if you will just look for them. If you will just listen to what is flowing out of your heart as you seek him.

This quieting down takes practice. Meditating, praying, reading the scriptures, fasting, worshiping - these practices help us to quiet ourselves down and to hear the echoes of God within our own soul.

When Jesus arrived on this planet, the scriptures say there was nothing noteworthy about his appearance (see Isaiah 53).

God is secure in his greatness - he has no need to use parlor tricks to prove himself. That’s why he will speak in a gentle whisper. That’s why he walked this earth as a simple, ordinary man.

God does not shove his greatness down our throat. Instead, he fills the background of the universe with his greatness. If we choose to ignore it, we can easily do so. But if we will spend a very little effort searching for it, we find it everywhere.

Echoes are a little quieter than the sound they come from. We can only hear echoes if we stop making noise.

God’s greatness is echoing through our universe, our world, and within our own souls. I encourage you to occasionally take time to stop what you’re doing and listen.

The day will come when we no longer live in a land of echoes, but rather in the midst of the very greatness that reverberates everywhere.

But for now, we must look past the wind and the earthquake and the fire that would distract us, and listen for the whisper of the one who is greater than them all.

Whispers in the Deep

lava_tube_cave_lava_beds_national_monument-normalI love how Anne Lamott describes God in Help, Thanks, Wow: Way beyond us and deep inside us. God is a being far beyond our comprehension. I mean, seriously, how am I supposed to understand a being for whom time and place are not limitations? Whose existence fills both without effort? The God who describes the whole of planet earth as a footstool (Isaiah 61)?

Yet this same God says the place he most wants to dwell is not within grand structures of stone, marble and gold. He says he wants to live within us. Humanity. His creation. (1 Corinthinans 6:19-20)

But instead of some process where God ends up destroying us by his overriding presence, he desires to live alongside us. To be a wellspring of life that does not diminish us, but rather increases us. To give us fuller life - a life “more abundant” is how Jesus describes it. (John 10:10)

I love that God is willing to be a ‘whisper’ within me. So that I have to seek it out. To quiet myself to hear it.

God, who could make it impossible for me to ignore him, makes it easy and effortless to disregard him.  The most valuable things in life are available in an unlimited supply (love, hope, faith, joy, etc), but they are not gained without pursuit.

I love that God is the same. His presence is in infinite abundance, but it is in no way common. Taking it for granted will ensure that we are never able to find it.


I’ve been reading quite a bit of material on other faiths recently, as preparation for a class I’m teaching this fall. There’s one faith that I just did some in depth study on where a daily prayer ritual exists. To complete this ritual takes between 2 and 3 hours each day. I have a great deal of respect for people who are disciplined enough to devote 2 to 3 hours to saying the same stuff each morning before the sun rises and after the sunset, and I don’t mean to belittle their efforts in worship and devotion; but I do respectfully believe that prayer is supposed to be so much more.

I worry that when prayer becomes a ritual, it loses its power.

Having a wedding ceremony once? Beautiful and meaningful. Having a wedding ceremony every weekend? Pointless and tedious.

I see signs of ritualization of prayer in Christianity. Here’s what I mean:

Praying over our food at each meal.

Praying before every athletic event and practice.

Praying before bed every night.

Praying when we wake up every day.

Isn’t it possible that “saying a prayer” 10-15 prayers a day will turn the prayer into an obligation? Perhaps I’m dead wrong here. Perhaps saying a prayer before every single meal will help some people remain focused on God’s generosity or provision.

I pray over some meals and not others. The funny thing is that the times when I don’t pray, God doesn’t turn the meal to worms and give me food poisoning.

Another faith I read about writes prayers on flags. Each time the wind blows the flag, they believe the prayer is sent up to heaven.

I simply can not accept this as an appropriate attitude for the Christian faith. Yet, when we say obligatory prayers at certain times, I feel we are doing essentially the same thing.

I’m not arguing that you or anybody else should pray more or pray less. Just that we must be weary of letting prayer become a ‘thing we do’. I find that often repeated rituals rob something of its genuine essence.

I believe prayer is important and valuable. Too important and valuable, in fact, to let it become a chore. So I pray all the time. But I don’t feel pressure to do it at any particular time.

I don’t think God is waiting behind a tree waiting to cause me harm if I forget to ask for protection on that particular morning.

I do think that spending time listening for God on a daily basis is important. Some days I don’t feel like I heard anything specific. Other days, I get distinct, strong impressions of what God is saying to me or showing me.

Prayer, reading the scriptures, singing, fasting; these are very valuable tools in the process of ones spiritual development. But like tools, they must be used for a purpose.

If I simply pick up a hammer and hit a piece of scrap wood everyday because ‘it’s a hammer and it’s supposed to hit wood’, I’m not actually building anything. ‘Praying because you’re supposed to pray’ is the same thing.

Let’s not feel that we need to pray more, let’s try to pray more genuinely, more interactively. For when we connect with God, then we have used the tool to accomplish its true purpose.

The Difference Between Having Faith and Being Delusional

Recently, I’ve been asking God and asking myself where the line is between faith and stupid. When do I stop being a man of faith and become a lunatic?

When a man absolutely convinces himself (and others) that God has showed him that the world will end on a certain date, then the date passes, we see the obvious conclusion that he was a wacko.

But didn’t he think he was having faith? Dismissing any doubts that God had revealed something to him - is that not what the life of faith is about?

So I have been trying to determine how to believe things that God says in the scriptures, even when there may be apparent evidence to the contrary, without crossing the line to being delusional.

One, clearly wrong, answer is to abandon faith. That’s the other end of the spectrum from becoming delusional. Becoming a stark realist. I refuse to end up there. We serve a supernatural God who does provide and fulfill promises. A God who calls things that are not as though they were (Romans 4:17).

The scriptures extol us repeatedly to have faith:

We live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7)

And without faith it is impossible to please God… (Hebrews 11:6)

You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. (John 14:13)

“…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”(Matthew 17:20)

So a life that is devoid of faith is not an option, but rather a less than desirable condition. So what, then? How do we arrive at a place where we have faith, but aren’t crushed when somebody at church we prayed for dies from cancer? When we’ve been asking for God to do something in our lives, but nothing seems to change?

This is when I recalled Jesus’ admonition to have faith like that of a child (see Luke 18:17).

My believe me when I tell them things. That doesn’t make my children delusional. It just means that they trust me. They accept the things I tell them without being skeptical or critical. They know that, as an adult, I know more things than they know. So if I say something, they take it at face value.

I think maybe that’s how I’m supposed to have faith in God. He knows more that I do. He has my best interest in mind.

If I, being totally imperfect, do my best to instruct my children and show them the right way to live and the best way to accomplish things in life, how much more will God be able to accomplish the same in the lives of his children?

I don’t know why sometimes I can’t seem to get the results in prayer that Jesus told me to expect. But rather than getting mad or resentful at God, I’m just taking the approach of saying ‘I guess I’m not doing it quite right’, and I’m trying to continue learning from my Father in Heaven - the way a child does.

In Jesus' Name

I have made the decision to stop saying “In Jesus’ Name” at the end of all my prayers. Not because I believe that I shouldn’t pray in Jesus’ name, but because I believe that praying in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean slapping 3 words onto the end of whatever I say.

I watched a video by Francis Chan where he talked about this. We pray ‘I want, I want, I want, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme….In Jesus’ Name, Amen.’ and we call that praying in Jesus’ name.

I think that’s closer to taking the lord’s name in vain than it is praying in Jesus’ name.

The Seven Sons of Sceva (Acts 19) thought that they could toss Jesus’ name around in order to accomplish their own agenda. It didn’t turn out so well.

I’ve realized that I have spent most of my Christian life trying to get God to go along with what I wanted to do. I seem to forget that he is a lot smarter than I am. That I am the insignificant speck of dust and he is the infinite creator.

So these days, I have stopped tacking on the phrase “In Jesus’ Name” to all my prayers, and instead tried to learn to pray for the things he wants to do - forgiveness of sins committed against me; provision on a daily basis rather than an overabundance I can place my trust in; protection from the evil one - who is greater than me, but not greater than God; and for the coming of his kingdom and his will on this earth.

Rather than ‘how can I get what I want?’, my driving question is ‘how can I participate in what he is doing?’

Instead of saying that I’m praying in Jesus’ name, I’m actually trying to do it.