Prayer is what Christians are supposed to do. But it isn't always easy. Sometimes it seems as if we're just going through the motions. Sometimes it seems as though no one is listening. Sometimes we don't really feel in the mood. And sometimes we want something really, really badly and pray very hard for it, and it doesn't happen.
Prayer is a gift, but it's also a mystery. The idea that the eternal God would intervene in the small doings of his creatures is too hard for us to grasp. But without a God who intervenes, our faith is just a philosophy. We believe in a God who acts.
So here are three questions that might help revitalise our prayer life.
1. Am I trying too hard?
Some people are very eloquent in prayer, able to string long and complicated sentences together and still make perfect sense. Most of us can't. If we pray for a hard situation, we don't have to explain it to God; he knows about it already. It's enough to name it, to be quiet for a few moments as we think about the people involved, and to ask him to bless them. Sometimes we struggle in prayer because we think we need to bring answers. That's God's job, not ours.
2. Am I expecting too much?
Some people reading this will have been told that prayer is a two-way conversation, that God speaks to us just as we speak to him. Others will have been taught that we can sense his presence, and been told stories about how we should be able to feel him in the room with us. Some Christians might be part of a tradition that stresses feeling and emotion, and wonder if there's something wrong if it's not like that for them.
Not necessarily! Everyone's different, and one person's experience of prayer is not like another's. If you don't feel much when you pray, it's not that you're doing it wrong. Prayer isn't about you, it's about God. The main thing is to do it.
3. Am I trying to do it by myself?
Prayer is very personal. But it's something we do together, too. Of course the Bible talks about Jesus going away by himself to pray, but more often prayer is a communal thing. Prayer with other people counts too – in church prayer meetings, in a prayer triplet, or when we use a book of prayers written by other people and their words become ours.
Prayer is normal for Christians, and it ought to be easy. When it isn't, it's often because we've made it too complicated. Pausing to clear away some wrong ideas can help refresh our prayer life again.
Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods