Help for Those Who Have Prayer A.D.D.
How many of us have Prayer A.D.D.? The stories Jesus told about prayer and the way he and a lot of Biblical prayer-heroes experienced prayer tell us that prayer often takes lots of patience and persistence. And that’s not a bad thing – even though it might mean a few challenges for us …
Does it ever feel that praying is a bit like talking to the walls – an ongoing or just one momentary battle against the feeling that your thoughts are just echoing around in your mind because God never seems to answer your prayers?
Maybe at other times you’re full of faith that prayer is an alive conversation with the living God. Sometimes it seems as if God has answered your prayer before your ‘amen’, while other times the thing for which you’ve been praying for 5 years is still on the list. How many times do we need to ask God for something or to do something for us?
If I’m honest, I’ll have to admit that I hardly remember what it is I’ve prayed for. I suspect there are many answered prayers that I don’t recognise because I’ve forgotten that I asked for them. I’m also pretty good at sending up tiny prayer-bytes – asking so, so briefly for something and then never again. God must be asking: ‘do you really want me to do that or what?’ If there’s a condition called Prayer A.D.D. I think I’ve got a serious case.
For sure, God does answer ‘arrow prayers’ – you know those ones you pray as you begin an exam or when you’re about to crash your longboard into an oncoming car? However, it seems to be the experience of many people (including a lot of Biblical prayer-heroes) that prayer often takes a good deal of patience and persistence.
Jesus told some strange stories when he was around physically on earth but I think one of the strangest parables is in Luke 11. Here it is from the Message translation:
Then Jesus said, “Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don’t have a thing on hand.’
“The friend answers from his bed, ‘Don’t bother me. The door’s locked; my children are all down for the night; I can’t get up to give you anything.’
“But let me tell you, even if he won’t get up because he’s a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he’ll finally get up and get you whatever you need.
“Here’s what I’m saying:
Ask and you’ll get;
Seek and you’ll find;
Knock and the door will open.
“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need…’
There’s another parable like this one in Luke 18v2-8 about a widow who keeps pestering a judge until he’s so worn out he gives her the decision she’s been seeking. Is Jesus saying that God is like a reluctant friend or judge who needs to be badgered until he finally does something just to get some peace from all our constant, annoying asking? I don’t think so. Jesus’ message seems to be that sometimes we just need to keep on asking. ‘Keep Calm and Keep Asking’ maybe … God values persistent faith.
Do you remember the ‘prayer changes us’ idea in one of the previous sessions? I suspect God might not answer the prayer we’re praying right away because he’s got some other stuff to get right in us first. There are some prayers I’ve prayed where I’m actually really glad – now – that God didn’t just give me what I was asking for straight away. As we connect to God we become more God-like – that means seeing our needs and the needs of the world around us with a more mature perspective. It could be that we go ‘ok, wait a minute; I don’t think that’s really what I’m asking for anymore.’
God’s will for all of us is that we become all grown up and mature. A teacher of mine once said that there’s no such thing as being mature without going through the painful process of maturing. What’s more mature – someone who patiently keeps asking God for something, trusting that God will answer in the best way, or someone who fires up lots of ‘give me that now!’-type prayers and then forgets most of them? I think God asks us to keep asking so that our faith can be tested in a way that grows our faith up into something that lasts.
Sometimes God just straight-up doesn’t seem to answer our prayers – at least the way we’d like him to. For every person who’s miraculously healed from some serious sickness, it seems there is also someone who never gets healed. What’s up with that?
Here’s the best answer I can come up with: I don’t know.
What I do know is that Jesus never said: ‘work out the odds of a successful prayer and then ask me if you think you won’t be wasting your time’. He simply said: ‘ask’ (for more on this check out session 3 of Series 4).
And so the best thing to do is ask – trusting that God, our Father who is for us (not against us), whose wisdom, knowledge and way of thinking is light years above ours (OT ref) will do for us what is best.
And no, that doesn’t mean our prayers should be a watery ‘just do whatever you want God…’ Jesus said to ask for specific things, and so we need to ask specifically. And then ask again, and again, and …
Here’s a story to finish with that challenges my idea of what prayer is about. It’s from the writer Jane Christmas who was thinking about becoming a nun:
The true work of a contemplative nun is praying. I had never appreciated the power and intensity of prayer until I prayed with nuns.
On the surface, praying seems easy. Knit your eyebrows in concentration, mutter a few words, and then get on with your day. It’s not like that in a convent. Think of the hardest job you could do—mining comes to my mind—and then imagine doing that in silence and in a dress.
Every day the sisters descended into the Pit of the Soul, picked at the seam of despair, sadness, tragedy, death, sickness, grief, destruction, and poverty, loaded it all onto a cart marked “For God,” and hauled it up from the depths of concern to the surface of mercy, where they cleaned it and polished it. It was heavy, laborious work.
(from And Then There Were Nuns (Greystone, 2013) and sourced here)
Heavy, laborious work? Maybe not quite the idea of prayer you’re used to. Keep calm and keep asking. You may just find your prayers being answered in ways you never expected.
In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.
Download a PDF version of this session here
Think back over the last few weeks and to the times you’ve prayed – or thought about praying.
- Has there been one prayer – something you’ve asked God for – over and over again? If there has been – what drew you into praying more than once for that thing?
- Are your prayers more like isolated one-off prayers? If so, what keeps you from asking God for things more than once?
- Would you diagnose yourself with a case of prayer A.D.D.*? If so, how bad is it?
(* Attention Deficit Disorder)
Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them on the website.)
o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?
o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?
Read the post in The Story tab.
Here’s Brad Fish attempting to explain how to get help if you have prayer A.D.D … Link here
In this session we’ve explored the idea that prayer can be hard work that needs some perseverance. That might not be what you expected …
Some questions to help you replay your story …
o What one thing stood out for you most in what you heard?
o Did anything in this session make you feel encouraged or hopeful? Anything seem like bad news to you?
o Has there been anything in this session that has challenged your idea of what God is like?
o Does the idea of keeping on praying for something even if there doesn’t seem to be any response from God make sense for you?
Re – draw your picture of Jesus
You’d think Jesus of all people would find prayer easy – and that he’d have this great, direct connection with God. But look at what we are told of how Jesus prayed: getting up early in the morning as a habit to pray (Mark 1v35), and praying so hard in the Garden of Gethsemane that he sweated – a prayer that wasn’t answered by God in the way Jesus wanted (Luke 22v39-46).
How does this change or challenge your idea of what Jesus is like – and how much Jesus can identify with our struggles in prayer?
What practical action, response, thought do you want to take into the week?
Have you encountered something about being persistent in prayer this session that makes you want to say to God:
‘wow, I’ve been getting that wrong in my prayer life, sorry! Help me see what the life of prayer you want for me is really about’ ?
Jesus invites us to repent often and with freedom. It’s a real gift from God – go for it!
Some questions to help you remix your story …
o If you think you have prayer A.D.D. what are some practical things you can begin to do to be more focused and persistent in prayer?
o Keeping a prayer diary is a great way to keep track of what you have been praying for – and how God has been answering your prayers. Why not start that this week?
o Is there something you’ve given up asking God to do for you or for someone around you? Is that something you can start praying about again?
From the WordSpace
Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:
You’ve probably come across contradictory ways of relating to God.
Some say, ‘Bow and scrape. Watch your words because he’s the Holy God.’ Others say, ‘Have a casual chat to God. He’s your BFF, your Dad.’
The truth? Yes.
It’s both. When you go before God in prayer, know that he’s the Almighty, Living God. The power of life and death are in his hands. His holiness and power are beyond understanding.
And he embraces us as beloved children. Invites us into his life-giving presence. Calls us friends.
‘O Lord … your majestic name fills the earth! … what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?’ (Psalm 8)
‘Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.’ (Luke 18v1)
Prayer is quite a mysterious thing and what I have found is that spending time in prayer is often more about us than it is about God.
God is certainly not like an ATM where I insert my prayer, push a few buttons and out comes the desired response.
I think sometimes God wants us to be able to see how important this request is to us and how faithfully we will stick with it.
Prayer changes us, which is exactly what God wants for us.
I heard about this conversation that a TV talk show host had with Mother Theresa. He asked: ‘When you pray what do you say?’
She replied; ‘Nothing, I just listen.’
So the cheeky TV show host asked: ‘Well, what does God say?’
Mother Theresa replied; ‘Nothing, he just listens too.’
That make you smile? And isn’t that so inviting?
We don’t need to always go to God with requests and demands. We can just go to BE with God – to sit with God and just listen, as he listens to us.
That’s beautiful intimacy with God. Why not try that sometime today?
Wouldn’t it be great if prayer became a habit? Something you just did – like checking your phone? 😉
A blogger that I like to read writes a lot about forming habits. The most helpful tips I’ve learnt from him are these:
1. Habits are best formed by starting with something really easy to do and adding slowly.
2. Don’t miss two days in a row.
So today, just pray for 1 minute. The same tomorrow. Next week add another minute. If you miss a day, that’s okay, but try not to miss two days in a row. By the end of next year you may just have reached an hour!