I don’t run. Don’t get me wrong. I have run before but don’t make it a habit.
It wasn’t always this way. I have a fond memory of running barefoot through the seemingly never-ending hall of the middle school building our church met in when I was eight. It felt as if just the tips of my toes hit the linoleum floor with each step, as if it took everything in me to slow down enough so that I didn’t actually lift off the ground. I felt weightless, unstoppable, and even superhuman.
I’d give anything to run that way again. Twenty-seven years later, I feel beyond clunky. I feel the weight of pounding the pavement in my flimsy knees. I feel my flesh rise and fall, and I even get dizzy when I hit the ground. I feel the air, all right, but it’s heavy and thick like humidity, and it seems to push me down.
Have you ever felt that way before—not on the pavement but in your prayer life? Have you felt the weight of distractions and responsibilities thick like a humid southern Louisiana morning? Something you just can’t seem to cut through?
I sure have.
I desperately want to feel weightless and unhindered in my prayer life, but instead, these things I can’t even see keep dragging me down.
I neglect to pray because I need to spend time on a screen keeping tabs on people I hardly know.
I hit snooze, assuming those last few restless minutes in bed will refresh me more than time with God.
I offer trite prayers because I know I should say something, but I forget that prayer actually has power.
Prayer can be one of the hardest spiritual disciplines in the Christian life. If you have felt that way, you are absolutely not alone.
It makes sense. I can measure so many things, even in my walk with God, but not prayer. I know when I’ve read a few chapters of the Bible. I know how much I tithe. And you’d better believe I know if I skipped a meal and fasted instead. But the gates of prayer are wide open. The structure can be so fluid that I sometimes don’t know if I can even label what just happened as prayer time because somewhere in the last five minutes, I drifted off to my to-do list.
If you’re nodding along thinking, This gal read my diary, I promise I didn’t. But I have read my own. I’ve struggled to take my own prayer life seriously. I’ve struggled to understand its power. And sometimes I recognize its power and still choose my dumb cell phone.
One thing I know for sure is that there are external and internal distractions causing us to miss out on a prayer life that goes beyond anything we can fathom.
In 2019, Crossway surveyed fourteen thousand people about their prayer lives, and 2 percent were “very satisfied.” Two percent. That means you likely fall in the camp with those of us who are not satisfied and are longing for more.
Another stat revealed that 30 percent of people surveyed said they hadn’t even spent ten continuous minutes in prayer in the last week. I won’t dare ask how many continuous minutes we’ve spent on our phones this week. Yikes, right?
That’s the bad news.
But here’s the good news. We don’t have to limp through our prayer lives carrying the weights that hinder our prayer lives—such as unfounded expectations, our desire for control, distractions, or pride. When we throw these weights aside, we can move forward at a steady pace.
A moment from The Biggest Loser helps me visualize this. Near the end of the seventh-season competition, the contestants, who by now were significantly lighter than when they started, ran carrying weights that equaled the number of pounds they’d lost during their time on the show. With each mile, they removed some of the weight until, finally, they threw it all off and could run free. It was emotional to see what could happen when the competitors weren’t so burdened. And it wasn’t just the physical weight; you could see they’d also been freed from emotional weights.
I want us to run free too.
I want our prayer lives to be unencumbered by the distractions that threaten to steal precious time with the Lord in favor of trivial things. I want us to learn to pray with confidence and really know the God we’re praying to. I want our prayer lives to be rich and deep and to transform the way we think. I want us to love God so much that we can’t imagine not being in conversation with him every day. I want us to experience the joy of persistent, consistent prayer that glorifies God.
Why is it so much easier to reach for my to-do list, remote, phone, or even a really good book? The short answer is that our enemy knows prayer is powerful. He knows what will happen if we pray, and he’s scared. He’s attempting to sabotage our races because he knows that once the weights come off, he doesn’t have a prayer.
In The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy writes about how this idea of compounding helps us when we’re trying to develop any habit:
It’s like the wheels of a steam locomotive. At a standstill, it takes very little to keep it from moving forward—a one-inch block of wood placed under the front wheel will do the job. . . . But once the train starts rolling, the wheels get into a rhythm. If the pressure remains consistent, the train gains momentum, and watch out! At 55 miles an hour, that train can crash through a five-foot, steel-reinforced concrete wall and keep on going.
We can be stopped by a little piece of wood, or we can plow through steel and concrete. We can get distracted by a fly buzzing around our bedroom or by dishes in the sink, or we can pray with Tangled playing in the background, while we’re facing a full inbox, or even through big moments of fear.
I want to plow through my distractions. I need to.
Our intimacy with God is dependent on our prayer lives. We cannot have a close relationship with him—we cannot experience his power, his wisdom, his peace, his joy—if we aren’t going to him.
Prayer invites action into our lives by the God who is more powerful than we could ever be on our own. I don’t want us to miss out on those possibilities!
We all know that prayer is more important than Netflix or sleeping in. I think we’d get that Sunday school question right every time.
It’s not worth walking through this life in our own feeble strength when the God of the universe is beckoning us to come sit with him, share our needs and our hearts, and simply know him.
Adapted from Pray Confidently and Consistently: Finally Let Go of the Things Holding You Back from Your Most Important Conversation by Valerie Woerner. Copyright ©2021. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Valerie Woerner's mission is to help women live intentional lives that are an outflow of a fruitful, focused prayer life. She is the author of Pray Confidently and Consistently, Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday, Springboard Prayers and The Finishing School and the owner of Val Marie Paper, where she designs prompted prayer journals and other practical products that eliminate distraction and increase focus in prayer. Valerie lives in Lafayette, Louisiana with her husband, Tyler, and their two daughters. Visit her online shop at valmariepaper.com.