In what ways does how we feel about ourselves affect our prayer life?
I have always struggled with prayer and felt rather inadequate, that I wasn't a good enough 'pray-er' and not spiritual enough. When John asked recently for questions about prayer for a forthcoming Bible study the above question came to mind. As I thought about the question I realised that I often started my quiet times with the Prayer of Confession I learnt as a child in the Church of England. 'Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred, and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us ...' Often I didn't get beyond this!
I can remember feeling so guilty as a child, as I recited these words every week, thinking that I was such a disappointment to God. There are other, beautiful words in the Book of Common Prayer which I still treasure, but I have realised recently just how strong the self-criticism and self-condemnation is within my Choleric/Melancholic temperament and how easily I absorb anything negative whilst positive, affirming words can fail to penetrate.
Earlier this year I felt that I wanted to develop my prayer life and become a more effective 'pray-er'. I found a Bible reading plan on my phone on 'How to pray' by Pete Greig and also listened to the accompanying audiobook. I think I had hoped that I would learn different and better ways to pray - and I have picked up some useful tips which I've incorporated into my day, for example pausing and using the Lord's prayer to refocus when I have my lunch. However, what I have found over the last few months is a completely different understanding and approach to prayer. I read the following words in the devotional 'What if the time you spend in the prayer room is when you refocus on Jesus so that you can carry his presence with you into the other 23 hours of the day with a heightened awareness that he is with you, he is for you, that he likes you, that he hears your thoughts? You start to pray in real time. You instinctively lift situations to the Lord in the actual moment you experience them. You're no longer deferring all your prayers to some later, holier moment because your whole life is becoming that holier moment.' The thought that God might like me and want to spend time with me was quite a revelation!
I also read Zephaniah 3:17, 'The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.' These thoughts were further reinforced by three recent Bible studies on 'What really happened at the Fall in the Garden?' The overriding message that I have taken away from these studies is that God wants to be with his people and that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the way we were made.
To answer the above question, my experience is that how we feel about ourselves is fundamental to the quality of our prayer lives - a negative view of ourselves and how God sees us is never going to lead to a relaxed and comfortable walk with God; rather it will lead to a continual sense of striving and subsequent failure, whereas an accurate view of who we are in the Lord will lead to a depth and richness in our communion with God.