What is Prayer Like? – Metaphors for the Weary Christian

“Strange as it may seem to you, you start praying by saying nothing; you recollect what you are about to do.”

Martyn Lloyd Jones

As a new father, I’m conscious of my weakness now more than ever. I feel it in the mornings as I wake to face a new day and in the evenings when I lay down my head, exhausted from the day past. And yet, my weakness and weariness do not always lead me to my knees in prayer as they should.

Often they are obstacles when I pray: my thoughts are foggy and jumbled. I struggle to focus and string together coherent sentences. I run out of words too quickly and am easily distracted.

Other times they hinder me from wanting to pray at all. When I’m tired, prayer seems tedious; another checklist item on top of everything else I need to do. It feels more rote than something with real spiritual power.

During times when I am weary but prayerless, I’ve found it helpful to call to mind several metaphors which remind me of what prayer is. This may seem like an odd strategy, but these word pictures help stir my imagination to recollect (to use Lloyd Jones’ term) and remember what I am doing as I bow my head.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring four metaphors for prayer. I’ve divided them by morning and afternoon/evening to roughly correspond with the weaknesses and needs I feel at those particular times of day*.

Morning Metaphors:

  • Prayer is like the sun on a snowy morning — it warms our dull hearts to be happy in God and find rest in His love for us.
  • Prayer is like bringing an empty pail to the ocean — through prayer, God fills up our empty hearts so we can pour ourselves out in service to others.

Afternoon/Evening Metaphors:

  • Prayer is like stepping outside and gazing up at the sky — it expands our self-centered perspective and humbles us before the majesty and love of God.
  • Prayer is collapsing into the Father’s arms — through prayer, we cast our sins and burdens onto God and rest in his strong, steadfast embrace.

It goes without saying that applying these metaphors (technically similes but “metaphors” sounds cooler) is not prescriptive; these are merely images which help nudge me towards prayer. Hopefully they can do the same for you.

Most of all, my hope is that delving into these images and bearing them out through Scripture will help me grow in my personal prayer life; to remind myself that prayer is a privilege and so learn to turn to God at every opportunity.


*Tim Keller wrote a helpful article on praying without ceasing which explores this idea of having multiple times of prayer to address the specific needs/struggles of the day.

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