Having been married for eighteen years, I may not be able to wholly define every aspect of love, but I can tell you with confidence there is one skill above every other that causes love to grow. All the other stuff — like picking up my dirty socks, going out on dates together, keeping romance alive, believing the best about the other, sticking together when times get tough — is important. But every aspect of my growing love for my wife, Sarah, emerges from the single skill of good communication. If I don’t grow in communication, our relationship of love doesn’t work, period.
The same is true of our relationship with God. If love is the whole point, then communication is the hidden key. We cannot have or grow in love without some form of communication. The Bible has a word for communication with God: prayer. So here it is, the single item on my how-to-be successful-at-faith list for you and me:
if we grow in prayer, we will grow in love.
As we grow in love we will grow in faith and live out God’s intention for our lives, to be wholly connected to Him. Everything else you and I need along the way will flow out of communication with our good Father in Heaven who loves us. We just need to keep the lines of communication open and active.
If we want our lives to be saturated with the favor of God, if we want contentment and joy within, if we want the peace that passes understanding, if we want the awareness of God’s love at the forefront of our lives and His voice to ring in our hearts, if we want direction and strength and help and hope, then our goal must be to grow in the practice of consistent prayer. This is how faith matures into a rich, loving relationship with God rather than a dry religion.
That is so freeing!
Yet, in the same breath, it presents a very big problem. Here’s my confession: prayer has been extremely difficult for me for many years. It has often been far easier for me to roll up my sleeves and accomplish something, or to do the opposite, kick back and check out when I’m tired, than to build daily prayer into my life.
Focused, distraction-free consistent conversation with the living God remains one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn how to do. This isn’t because God makes it difficult. It’s not because I don’t love God or think God doesn’t love me. It’s because there are so many forces pushing and pulling me in directions away from Him. Let’s be honest. If communication is the key, then I have some growing to do — just ask my wife….
I had unintentionally developed an imbalanced prayer life. I didn’t even know that was a thing! Have you ever played the Settlers of Catan? Kind of nerdy, I know. The goal is to collect different resource combinations of grain, wool, ore, brick, and lumber in order to build up roads and cities and dominate the land. If all you have is lumber, well, you can’t eat. If all you have is wool, you can’t build a road. You need a balanced growth of all the resources. It’s sort of like baking a cake — you need all the ingredients in some measure to get the right outcome.
Nothing we’ve ever accomplished in life grows properly without some patterned intention. This is true even with our prayers. Don’t worry though, I’m not about to burden you with a structure you can’t easily manage, and I won’t suggest something that will squeeze the mystery out of our time with the Divine. This prayer structure has breathed life into my conversations with God and kept me on a holistic track of prayer, growing in love for and with God over time. Though I pray in many different ways, I still use this method after twenty years. It is based on the acronym CHAT¹ which is based around the Lord’s Prayer (see Matthew 6:9–13) that Jesus once taught to His disciples.
I literally sit down with a journal or piece of paper, draw three horizontal lines creating four equal sections on the paper and write C, H, A, T, one letter at the top of each section. Here’s what each letter stands for.
C = Confess
I start by bringing the truth about who I am to God. “God, this is who You are dealing with here (as if You don’t know already).” It’s my chance to be honest about who I’ve been or haven’t been the last day or so and ask for forgiveness for any ways I’ve gone off-track. Sometimes for me this sounds like, “God I’m sorry I was so impatient with that sales clerk at lunch yesterday. That was rude, unkind, and I think I acted pretty entitled in that moment. Please forgive me and know that I’m committed to going back and apologizing to that person.”
This gives us the chance to have a candid and clean slate in our dialogue with God from the very beginning. It’s us saying, “I’m going to have a no-pretense time with you God.”
H = Honor
This is often the most refreshing time of prayer for me. I turn my eyes away from myself: away from my own mistakes, away from my worries, and certainly away from all the mess of this world. This is where I don’t use the first-person personal pronouns “I” or “me.” I only use “You,” meaning God. I start by honoring Him for who He is, naming His characteristics that I’ve recently seen or experienced or reflected on. “God, You are patient. You never turn Your back. You are good. God, You answer prayer. God, You never give up on people. You never deserved death, but You took our place.”
Reflect on God alone. You’ll be surprised how transformative these moments of honoring God for who He is can be. At this point, your heart and mind should be sinking more deeply into a prayer focus than you may have ever experienced before.
A = Ask
This is often what we think of when we consider prayer: the practice of asking God for something. Once, before traveling, my daughter asked me, “Daddy will you bring a gift home for me?” I spent the entire trip thinking, “What is the perfect gift I can bring home for my little girl?” I chose a simple, inexpensive, colorful scarf. When I gave it to her, she lit up with excitement. Fulfilling her request became a mission and even a fulfilling purpose for me. This is how God often views our requests. God is a good Father and wants to give good gifts. He wants to know what we want and need. It’s part of a relationship with Him, not our entire relationship with Him but a significant part.
God also wants us to ask Him on behalf of others. To pray for others is one of the greatest ways we can show love to them. Sometimes, others don’t have the strength or faith to ask in prayer for themselves. Or the prayer need is so big, they need an extra boost. You can stand in the gap for them. So, make sure to build moments of asking for yourself and others into your balanced practice of prayer.
T = Thank
…in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
— Philippians 4:6
Did you notice that? Right in the middle of presenting our requests, we are instructed to give thanks! There is nothing that pulls our hearts out of depression, entitlement, and even temptation quicker than gratitude. Name the things you are thankful for every day and you will find joy, centeredness, and strength like never before. End your prayer times with thankfulness and it will be difficult not to feel connected to Christ.
This time of thankfulness in prayer is also an opportunity to try out new levels of faith; thankfulness includes trusting. You and I can actually begin to thank God in advance for things we have been asking for, trusting that He hears us as we try on our “new clothes of faith” (concept from 1 Thessalonians 5:8) and believing that He will answer. We may thank God in advance for provision of a need or healing for a wound or sickness in our hearts or lives. When we approach God in advance with thankfulness in the present, it opens us up to see Him acting on our behalf in the future….
The Secret to Success
The truth is, prayer can be hard at times. There are a lot of reasons to avoid prayer: grief, anger, distraction, distrust, inexperience, boredom, busyness, or just plain lack of trying.
Let’s never forget, at its core, our faith is a love relationship which grows in communication and shrinks when we hold back.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is keep showing up.
Keep trying. If you allow anything to pull you away from communication with the God who loves you, you are letting that thing define and dismantle you. Make prayer your priority, even when it’s hard. Devote energy and time and courage into an intentional pattern of daily prayer. “Come close to God, and God will come close to you…” (James 4:8 NLT).
Keep showing up and communicating with the God who loves you. Bring your real, courageous self. Confess, honor Him, ask Him for what you need and want, and thank Him. He is going to show up and pour into you. That’s a promise!
- This acronym is from the book Prayer Coach by Jim Nicodem (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008).
Excerpted with permission from How to Follow Jesus by Craig Springer, copyright Craig Springer.
* * *
Craig’s honest and authentic take on prayer in the Christian faith was something we needed to hear. We hope this stirs something in you to keep praying even when it’s hard. What is making prayer hard for you right now? Come share your thoughts on our blog!