I, too, am a college grad who experiences the same things as mentioned in the article “How can I figure out what to do with my life?” However, I must point out that your response falls short of addressing the deeper issues in the individual’s life.
I’m sick and tired of being told that you need to read the Bible and pray more. People of my generation need more practical advice.
I know how it sounds when you seek counsel from another Christian and his advice is to pray and read your Bible and go to church. Duh. Tell me something I don’t already know.
I received a lot of advice like that as a new and struggling Christian (I still struggle). It’s not the only counsel I received, but those disciplines were often repeated to me as at least part of the way out of whatever my current difficulty happened to be.
Then one day when a mentor suggested prayer as part of the solution to a particular problem I had, I told him, “Yes, I know. I’ve tried prayer. I was hoping for something a little more practical.” Been there, done that; let’s move on.
“Oh,” he said. “Tell me about that. How often do you pray about it, and what have you prayed?”
There wasn’t a whole lot to say. After thoroughly investigating my prayer efforts, it turns out I had prayed once or twice, sort of random “God-help-me” prayers, read a verse or two now and then, and moved on, wondering why nothing changed.
My mentor explained to me that prayer and the other spiritual practices are not like bullets we put in the gun chamber and randomly shoot in the air when we don’t know what else to do.
Yes, he said, there are times when all you can do is cry from the depths of your soul, “God, help me!” Many of David’s psalms express that kind of prayer. But, he explained, the prayers in the psalms, of Jesus in the gospels, and of Paul in his epistles and other New Testament writers, are usually strategic, specific, Spirit-led and centered around truth, and as a result, effective.
“James tells us what kind of prayers is effective,” my mentor said, “and ineffective.” He pointed to James 4:3 (ESV), “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…” (in this case to be spent on individual pleasures) as opposed to the kind of prayer that is on target: James 5:16 (NKJV), “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
He challenged me to actually plan to pray. He said I would pray more often and more effectively with a plan. He introduced me to the apostles’ prayers and encouraged me to personalize them and pray them over my circumstances. He also suggested as I read Scripture to turn the verses into prayer.
At first putting his advice into practice was like getting a stuck car out of a ditch. My personality is much more the “wing it” type. Plans are not my area of comfort. And how I practiced spiritual disciplines showed it. Then my mentor offered to give me a big push out of that ditch.
“We pray every morning from 6 to 7 at church, Monday through Friday,” he said. “Why not join us?” It was the second time I’d been approached about this early-morning prayer activity.
My friend’s advice and willingness to walk with me began a spiritual-discipline revolution in my life. It resulted in a much deeper, vibrant and more satisfying walk with God that began to produce the fruit of the Spirit. It took a while, and it was, and still is, hard work. Spiritual plowing, tilling, planting — farming — is often hard business and not for the faint of heart. But over time, sometimes days and sometimes decades, we see the harvest.
My point is this: I’d been a Christian for eight years and had been told to pray (and practice the other disciplines) many, many times. It had become to me one of the cliché Christian answers. But I realize that those who were giving me that advice had actually discovered the life-transforming power of God through some of these practices, and they wanted me to experience them in that way as well.
And I want you to experience that, too. I could go on and on with advice that sounds cliché and repetitive, and I probably will in future columns, but don’t let the fact that it is familiar advice cause you to ignore it.
I thank God that someone took enough interest in my life to ask, “Oh, really? You’ve prayed? Tell me about that.” Maybe I can do the same for someone else. I hope it’s helpful.
Copyright 2012 John Thomas. All rights reserved.