The Path to a Better Prayer Life

In my 1993 research of prayer practices of Lutheran church members, I almost overlooked the 51 percent among the other percentages in the table. Slightly more than half agreed that “prayer is the most satisfying experience in my life.”

The question was deliberately asked in the extreme form—“the most satisfying experience of my life”—to discourage easy affirmation. Yet 51 percent could mark agreement. Sources of satisfaction aren’t hard to find in the data. Here are the percentages of those I surveyed who report they regularly have the following experiences:

· Fifty-five percent experience a deep sense of peace during prayer.
· Forty-five percent feel the strong presence of God.
· Thirty-six percent receive what they regard as a definite answer to a specific prayer request.
· Twenty-four percent receive what they believe to be a deeper insight into spiritual or biblical truth.
· Twenty percent feel divinely inspired or “led by God” to perform some specific action.

A deep sense of peace is the most prevalent experience during prayer. Over half the respondents reported that this peace “usually” happens to them. Almost half also usually felt the strong presence of God during prayer.

Receiving answers to prayer is a form of experiencing power—the ability to have an impact on people or circumstances around you. About a third “usually” have the reinforcement of seeing clear answers to specific prayer requests.

My book How the Spirit Shapes Prayer (2017) is based on research I did among a random sample of ordinary Lutherans from 105 congregations across the country. In it, I provide specific descriptions of these outcomes offered by respondents.

For example, Janice Benson is a mother of young children and an accounting instructor who does a lot of praying when she takes a two-mile walk four or five times a week. In addition, she noted, “Sometimes I am able to set aside times to play the piano and sing my prayers to God. I do this in the evening before bed. I think I feel closest to God in prayer.”

A woman commented, “I am often moved to tears during prayer, either with joy or fear. I guess I always feel the love of our Lord while praying, which does make it the most satisfying experience of life!”
An elderly woman commented, “I kept asking God to change my husband (who has multiple health problems) and help him. Only when I prayed that God would change me did my help come, and then in abundance. Our daily living is now peaceful and happy (we laugh more, too). I have much greater patience, love and strength. Thanks be to God.”

Experiencing the benefits of peace and power amounts to finding that prayer makes a difference—either in oneself or in somebody or something else. As can be observed in the percentages, those who experience such differences are more likely to report greater satisfaction from prayer. Those who more frequently experience satisfaction in prayer are in turn likely to pray more often. The path to a better prayer life goes from experiencing personal benefits to deriving greater satisfaction to doing it more frequently

Simply deciding to pray more frequently in itself probably won’t yield a better prayer life. A better place to start is to look directly for those experiences where you lift up your concerns and requests to God while you are doing other things. These come at the initiative of the Spirit.

You can receive more of these benefits by placing yourself in the Spirit’s workshop—believers gathered around God’s Word and sharing their experiences. In those settings the knocking of Christ’s Spirit at the door of the heart becomes more evident, especially when you know what you are looking for.

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