I believe I've mentioned on this site before that my prayer life suffers from willful neglect. I say "willful" even though superficially it is "accidental." What I mean is, I don't purposefully say "I'm not going to pray much this week (or at all today)," but I might as well. The end result is the same.
I've also mentioned, in that same previous post I think, that while I don't commit to purposeful times of prayer, I do talk to God all the time. Since high school (that's as far back as I can trace it), I've been directing what psychologists call my "inner monologue" Godward. So I talk to God all the time, and in a very real way, I do believe I pray without ceasing.
But it's not the same as focused, deliberate prayer; it's not the same as, shut out the world and all distractions and be still enough to pray and to listen.
So a couple of weeks or so ago, I told God I wanted to pray more deliberately but that I needed help. In no time at all, I began to receive e-mails and other sorts of indications from friends that were having various types of trouble. I hesitate to be specific, just for the sake of privacy, but most of these folks were dealing most heavily not with the troubling circumstances they found themselves in, but with how those circumstances are affecting them. Doubt, depression, faithlessness, fear, despair. These are big things for mere mortals.
In most cases, I could identify with my friends, and so I have committed to share their burdens, even if just in prayer. I had asked God for help in making my prayer more intentional, and He responded by sending me the burdens of friends to bear. (I even traded prayer burdens with one dear friend, committing to pray for him every day while he did the same for me. In that way, neither of us would feel like we were whining daily to God selfishly about ourselves but we still both were having our cares cast upon God.)
I didn't set this up on purpose, but as I was winding down the few books I wanted to finish before starting the two BIG books I have been planning to read over the summer, I have now ended up with two stragglers -- both are books on prayer.
I'm still struggling with deliberate prayer, but one of my strengths (or one of my faults, depending on how you look at it, or upon how I express it) is loyalty to my friends. I have remained true to praying for these people every day not really because my prayer life has been turned around, but because I don't want to let a friend down! How's that for accidental growth?
One thing I have worked out somewhat is not to get discouraged or distracted when prayer is difficult. Sometimes, especially when one is rusty, it can be hard to pray, hard to sense that the words are making it all the way up to God. There is no automatic relief or exhilaration in the prayers of a prodigal intercessor. But I am beginning to believe that prayer is supposed to be difficult, and that actual strength is found precisely in this difficulty. Perhaps at no other time is my faith more true and strong than when my prayers falter, God appears silent, and yet I keep believing He is there.
It is easy to have faith when all is well and prayer comes easy and God's blessings are raining down unavoidable. But there is strong faith to be found when one keeps trusting even though life is troubled and prayer is hard and God's favor is hard to find.