‘Learned desperation is the heart of a praying life.’

Recently I have been re-reading Paul Miller’s book ‘A Praying Life’.Praying Life

I have been struck by two things: how good it is and how little I remember from the first time round.

This morning I was reading about Miller’s concept of an infinite-personal God. His hypothesis is that ‘our modern world is okay with an infinite God, as long as he doesn’t get too personal’. Quoting from various places in Scripture, he demonstrates how the God of the Bible is both infinite and personal – for example in Psalm 23:1 the words ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ speak of his majesty (he is the LORD) but at the same time his intimacy with us (he is my Shepherd). But, like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, we are afraid of God getting too close. We shy away from that kind of intimacy. ‘We desperately want intimacy, but when it comes, we pull back, fearful of a God who is too personal, too pure.’

I don’t remember reading that first time round. That’s why I think perhaps one of my New Year resolutions needs to be the regular re-reading of this book…once a year? Perhaps once a month would be better.

‘A praying life opens itself to an infinite, searching God…..We can’t do that without releasing control, without constantly surrendering our will to God….Learned desperation is the heart of a praying life.’

I want to have a praying life – but do I want to make myself that vulnerable – to be desperate for God?


‘I was so angry I couldn’t even pray.’

I was interested to hear this comment today: ‘I was so angry I couldn’t even pray. But I did talk to God. I just told him how I felt. I told him how angry I was.’

While I understand – and empathise with – the sentiments expressed, they present a problem with the way we think about prayer, don’t they? Somehow we think we have to bring a well-constructed monologue to God before we can call it ‘prayer’ – something that somehow echoes biblical language, is worthy of true Christian devotion and certainly begins and ends correctly. A bit like the essays we all had to write in school, really. A good beginning and a good ending with a well-constructed body of expression in the middle.

Why do we think that? Is that how we talk to our friends, our parents, our spouses? Would they not be offended if that was how we approached them? Wouldn’t we be offended if they came to us with well-constructed, pre-arranged monologues instead of spontaneous conversations which lead to meaningful dialogues?

God longs for us just to ‘tell him how we feel’. Isn’t that what the Psalmists did? Isn’t that what real prayer is?