Help With Prayer - How Do I Find a Way of Praying That Will Work for Me?

Finding a way of prayer that works for you can be very difficult. Lots of books and practices exist. And you read most of them and the authors are basically teaching you how they pray. And since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, they project onto us, the readers, the notion that the form of prayer that works for them must work for everyone. So you try different prayer methods, and you flounder.

However, even though God is always the same person, you are not the same person as whoever is teaching you about prayer. Consider: you are one person. Yet you have different forms of relationships with different people in your life. You have one form of relationship with your wife or your husband, another form of relationship with your parents, and another form of relationship with your friends. Even within the same categories of people, you have different relationships with your different friends; you have different relationships with your different coworkers; you have different relationships with your different children - in each case, based on who they are. Isn't it reasonable that the way God interacts with you would be tailored to who you are? Isn't it reasonable to think that God is not constrained to respond to you the same way He responds to whoever you happen to be learning about prayer from?

So the real question is how do you find a pattern of prayer, a form of prayer, that will work for you?

For your ongoing growth in Jesus, I think you actually need to discover three forms of prayer. First, you need to find a form of prayer that supports you in who you are and in what your personality is currently. Second, you need to find a form of prayer that will challenge the assumptions that your personality makes, assumptions you don't even know you are making. Third, you need to find a form of prayer that will lead you into growth and integration.

To find the first form of prayer, the prayer practice that supports your personality, the best approach is to find a personality typing system that resonates with you; one that intuitively makes sense. Discover your personality type according to that system, and seek out forms of prayer that work for that personality.

For example, if you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs temperaments, and if that personality typing system resonates with you, then you might want to read Michael and Norrisey's book, Prayer and Temperament. They write about four different forms of prayer, one for each of the four fundamental Myers-Briggs types. If your personality type is an NT, they suggest Thomistic prayer: discursive prayer focused on who, what, where, when, why, and how. Thomistic prayer primarily proceeds from an exegesis of Scripture. If your personality type is NF, they suggest Augustinian prayer: the prayer of transposition. Transpositional Prayer takes a situation in Scripture and transposes it into the present day. It then imagines how Jesus would respond in that current situation. If your personality type is an SJ variant, Michael and Norrisey suggest Ignatian prayer: take an event in Scripture, particularly one in the life of Jesus, and imagine your way into the event so that you are present there. Hang out there until Jesus responds to you. And if your Myers-Briggs typology is an SF variant, they suggest Franciscan prayer: spend a lot of time in nature observing and respond to God through what you sense. All of these are examples of prayer practices that support your personality.

If Myers-Briggs does not appeal to you, you might try the typing system called the Enneagram, which I personally like. It differentiates between nine basic personality styles, each of which identifies a particular form that structural Sin takes in our life. Enneagram theorists argue that we build our personalities around our structural Sin - what in earlier Christian theology was called "our besetting sin" and that affects what we attend to, how we interact with people, and how we interact with God. It's a particularly helpful personality profiling system for purposes of figuring out how to help yourself pray. If you'd like to try it, go to the Enneagram Institute website, take the RHETI profile, then read a little bit about your personality type and begin thinking about what forms of prayer would work for you.

So for example, you may discover that you are a personality type that wants to always be right. Doing it right is important to you, and that the first thing you notice in any situation is what is wrong. If so, then using written prayers may work for you: try the Book of Common Prayer; try praying prayers out of the Oxford Book of Prayer; try praying the Psalms or the prayers of Paul. As another example, you might discover that you are a personality type that has to feel needed in order to feel loved. If so, then a practice of intercession might work for you. The point is that you find a way of praying that supports who you are. This is particularly important during the first part of your life. As you are building your life structures: deciding who you're going to spend your life with, what you're going to do to earn your living, and how you want to make a difference in the world, prayers that support you in this effort will be very helpful.

Second, find a form of prayer the challenges your assumptions. God is far larger and far more loving than we really understand or believe Him to be. A form of prayer that challenges your assumptions helps open your mind and your heart to the width and height and depth and breadth of God's love for you.

So for example, if you are in fact the kind of person who always has to be right and pays attention to what is wrong in any situation, developing a practice of gratitude would be an excellent form of prayer for challenging your assumptions. Simply look at everything around you: all of your relationships, your work situation, your family situation, the individual components of your life, and find a way to thank God for it. Be specific, perhaps even to the point of looking at the leaves on the trees that you drive by as you commute to work. Adopting a practice of making your requests known to God by means of thanksgiving would challenge your assumption that there is something wrong about every situation and that is what you need to pay attention to. Similarly, if you are the type of person who has to feel needed in order to feel loved, then a prayer practice that thanks God for situations in which you are not needed, in which God is taking care of things in His own time, would challenge your assumptions. Whatever your personality type, identifying your assumptions and finding a form of prayer that will challenge them will help you gain greater flexibility and freedom in responding to your life.

Third, you need to find a form of prayer that will help you grow and integrate. Typically Christians move into this kind of prayer in the later part of their lives, but there is no reason not to start this form of prayer in your 30s and 40s. In the Christian tradition integrative prayer tends to take one of three forms: Contemplative Prayer; the form of prayer described by the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, which has been updated and her is currently known as Centering Prayer; and the form of prayer described in The Way of the Pilgrim: - the Jesus prayer. These forms of prayer move us away from discursive prayer, and move us toward relying on God to manage our spiritual development.

Perhaps it seems daunting, but you can find a way of praying that will work for you, that will help you connect with God in a way that honors how He has made you. Find a personality typing system that makes sense to you, think through its assumptions, and match those up with a way of prayer. But while you're doing this work don't wait to pray. Trust that the Holy Spirit is leading you forward and is continuing to build Jesus into you, and is even using your exploration process to bring His work in you to completion