As a lifelong Christian, I’ll admit that there have been many times when I’ve fallen into a prayer rut. I know intellectually that prayer means having a conversation with God, the divine creator of the universe. But in a world of attention-grabbing tasks, obligations, and entertainment, quiet time doesn’t always rise to the top of my daily to-do list. I end up tossing a handful of half-hearted requests at God as I fall asleep at night or reciting the same-old blessing pre-dinner. (Ahem…you know the one.)
Still, no matter what, I want to make my prayer life a priority. Prayer has the ability not only to bring healing and grace, but to draw me closer to God and align me with his will. Over the years, I’ve experimented with various forms of prayer that have helped yank me out of autopilot and give me a fresh perspective. If you’re in a spiritual slump, try any of the following suggestions to breathe new life into your conversations with God.
1. Use a prayer template
It may sound rigid to some, but for me, using a prayer “template” provides structure that harnesses my meandering thoughts. I tend to come back to a four-pronged format called ACTS. This acronym stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. As I progress through my quiet time, I devote a few minutes to each of these purposes. For adoration, I meditate on some aspect of God’s wonderful character. I then tell him my sins in a private confession, thank him for the many blessings in my life, and finally, make requests in supplication. For an added bonus, I use a book of scripture passages that correlate with each category.
2. Journal to Jesus
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could just sit at Jesus’ feet and ask him questions? Well, in a spiritual sense, you can. Try journaling a dialogue with the Lord. Write down your questions or petitions, then close your eyes, picture him in the room with you, and allow space to imagine and listen for his responses—then write them down, too.
I like to get comfortable on my office futon, where I imagine Jesus sitting next to me for a deep heart-to-heart. (Maybe we’re even sipping cups of coffee.) It never fails to renew a sense of intimacy and remind me that he understands every human thing I’m going through.
3. Pray with imagination
St. Ignatius of Loyola is credited with establishing a Christian process of imaginative prayer. This form of prayer engages with Scripture in the first person. First, choose a Bible story you find meaningful — the Good Samaritan, let’s say, or the Prodigal Son. As you read (or remember) the story, imagine yourself as a character within it. Utilize your senses to see the father with open arms welcoming you home, smell the desert dust beneath your feet. Stay in the image awhile. What insights arise not only about the story itself, but about its application to your own life?
4. Pray with action
“Active” prayer connects the spiritual with the physical, whether through walking, running, biking, swimming, or any other movement that offers quiet space for contemplation. (I personally wouldn’t try it in a cardio kickboxing class blasting electronica, but that’s just me.)
It could be that you simply go for a run to clear your head before settling down to your quiet time. Or perhaps you pray as you pedal on a bike ride through a park. My personal favorite option is to match a prayer “mantra” to my movements in yoga or my breaths while swimming: “Thy Kingdom come” on your inhale, “Thy will be done” on my exhale. Whatever you choose, you’ll be putting faith into action, literally.
5. Take a pilgrimage in prayer
Sometimes getting stuck spiritually stems from difficult experiences from our past. When we’ve lived through pain or trauma, we know we’re supposed to forgive the people who’ve hurt us—but sometimes we actually have to “forgive” God, too, in order to move on in our relationship with him.
One way to do so is to take a “prayer pilgrimage” through your past. In this deep dive into your personal history, you’ll use your imagination again, this time to revisit past events, asking God to show you where he was in them. You can do this in writing or simply by walking through a memory in your mind.
I once gave this a try when grappling with memories of my parents’ divorce. “Jesus, where were you when I was frightened and confused?” I asked one day in prayer, remembering myself waving my mom off to a custody battle that would decide my future. I suddenly saw Jesus with his arms around me in my childhood driveway. I felt his infinite compassion for the scared little girl in the scene. I heard his whisper that, no matter my circumstances, he would always be faithful. It was a breakthrough that has stayed with me ever since.
You might be surprised at the depth of healing that can come from finding Jesus in your past—and how doing so might mean renewed fervor for prayer in your future.
Originally published October 9, 2019.