[I'm working on finishing up drafts for the chapters to Live Prayerfully: Three Ways Ordinary Lives Become Prayerful. The general of the aim of the book is to provide guidance on historic practices of prayer in simple ways. Below is a draft of the Conclusion. I'd love your feedback, so please consider leaving a comment. And if you like it, share it on Facebook or Twitter.]
The Making of Prayerful People
Synergy: the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.
I find I am better or worse as I pray more or less. Prayer tones up the whole of life. I can never be better in life than I am faithful in prayer. If prayer lags, life sags. If we know how to pray, we know how to live; if not, then we exist, we don’t live. When I pray, I’m like an electric bulb in the socket, full of life and power. When I don’t pray, then I’m like that bulb out of the socket- lifeless.
E. Stanley Jones
The secret to a life of prayer, by and large, is showing up.
My first sincere attempts as a youth at growing toward a prayerful life were by praying with my own words. Other than when we said the Lord’s Prayer in worship services, this was the only way of prayer that I knew, so it was the only way that I prayed for years.
In my first years after college, I enjoyed the discovery of reading spiritual writers who taught about praying without words. For a time, that became my primary way of praying, though by then praying with my own words was deeply ingrained enough in me that I could not completely let go of it.
About a decade later, while I sat at a Transforming Community retreat and listened to Ruth Haley Barton teach on fixed-hour prayer, I felt my soul being drawn like a magnet to the kind of prayer she described. I had experienced it in the Transforming Community and other places without even realizing what it was we were doing, so then as Ruth taught us this centuries-old way of praying with other people’s words, I was eager to explore it and shape my life around it.
Upon returning home from that retreat, I immediately bought a copy of The Divine Hours and began a rhythm of praying with other people’s words through fixed-hour prayer. I immediately noticed how it became a valuable bridge for me. Being a new parent, I often had days when the craziness of adapting to life with a baby in the house meant that my normal space for praying without words and/or praying with my own words was pushed aside. Yet with the constant rhythm of fixed-hour prayer, I was able to bridge those gaps.
As I became more familiar with the rhythm of praying with other people’s words through fixed-hour prayer, I began to experiment with incorporating times of praying without words and praying with my own words into those established times of prayer. Then I experienced synergy.
Having benefited from each of these three ways of praying, initially each independently of the others, I was surprised to notice the difference it made when I put them together. I felt like every part of me was becoming more open to God, like I was finally getting a taste of the kind of prayerful life I had always wanted.
I can’t say for sure whether or not your experience will the same. In some ways, it certainly will not. But I can say that since I have found God’s grace to be available so abundantly through these three ways of praying passed down to us from countless numbers of followers of Jesus throughout history, I am reasonably certain that you will too.
One more thing: I said in the Introduction that a prayerful life is meant for everyone. Here in the Conclusion I want to add to that statement and say: a prayerful life is meant for everyone, and none of us become prayerful by ourselves. Perhaps the synergy that surpasses that of putting together practices of praying with other people’s words, praying without words, and praying with your own words is that of putting these practices together with others. It might be on a retreat, in a small group, or with your family, but the only way we are meant to live prayerfully is to live prayerfully together.
Part II of this book is a guide that you and others can use to do so.