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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

I’m sure some of you may be surprised that I am writing about prayer as a dilemma. After all, isn’t it fundamental to our faith? How could that be a problem? But then, if it’s not problematic in some way or another, why are there thousands of books written about prayer: how to do it, when to do it, why we do it, etc. From what I can see, most people spend a good deal of time lamenting how little they pray. I should–I could– if only and so on.

My first realization that there are a variety of ways to pray came from Richard Foster’s book, “Prayer.” Written in the early 90’s, he laid out 21 different types of prayers. Oh dear! I was only really good at the first one: simple prayer. So, I figured I’d read through the book, and one by one, I’d practice these other prayers. Ha! By the time I got to the the third one, I gave up (the prayer of Examen). I didn’t get it. Then.

In later years, I became deft at public prayer. I could really bring the people with me into the holy of holies, calling forth the power of a miraculous God. This was a time of many “Praise the Lords.” In those years, I also practiced praying in the spirit (and singing in the spirit). Looking back, I think the biggest benefit to praying in tongues is that words get out of the way.

I confess I also learned how to pray manipulatively; that is, in such a way as to suggest to God how situations, like my marriage for instance, could be better and what my husband could do to implement that change. He would be sitting next to me. Surely, I was infuriating.

As I began to do more speaking engagements and perform in churches or para-church organizations, I learned to pray for others. That was a sweet time, a meaningful time. There was a flow to touching another person’s spirit with my own through prayer.

When I did my skits, I often made fun of various prayer times: everything from prayer poses to coffee breaks to distractions and of course, falling asleep. People laughed because they recognized themselves in the skits. I drew from my own experience.

I knew and I know that prayer is important: it’s the way we communicate with God. But doesn’t God already know what we need? Healing? Food? Shelter? Work? A new Cadillac. Whoa, should we pray for such things? New acquisitions? A Trip to the Bahamas? More stuff? I don’t think so.

Gradually, year by year, my practice of prayer has changed and changed and changed. And although I can still pray out loud with the best of them, I find that silence is the deeper form of communication with God. In silence, I can experience the Presence of God and surrender to God’s intention. I am with God and God is with me. I am with Christ Jesus and Christ Jesus is with me. Holy Spirit is with me and I am with the Holy Spirit.

Privately, when I pray for others now, I say their names and then I wait. When I pray for our nation or our political turmoil or violence in the street or inequality, I state the situation, and then I release it to God. I read a passage of scripture and sit with it. I read a poem and ponder it. I write. I journal. I sit. I slow down. Prayer is more about listening than speaking. Prayer is dwelling in the secret place, God’s dwelling place. And it is in this place, that the words from that famous song make sense: It is well, it is well, it is well with my soul.

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Boom!

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:6]

It’s only taken 30 some years for me to understand that prayer is mine. I mean, it’s between me and God and there is no “right” way to pray. Only if I pray as “me” can I ever hope to achieve the “pray without ceasing” intention. This discovery came out of my conversation with a spiritual director.

For too many years, I have placed prayer into a silo. This is my prayer time. These are my tools for prayer. These are the books I’ve read. These are the suggestions, instructions, recommendations on prayer.

I would never say, I need to get better at eating nor would I think I need more practice in sitting or standing or talking (my gift and my undoing). Historically, I have placed prayer in the arena of learning how to knit or play the piano or walk on stilts. I’ve allowed myself to believe that prayer is a skill. That is not the case. And with that understanding, a freedom descends upon me like a cool breeze.

I am already good at prayer. I just didn’t recognize it. I have all that I need to pray. I have all my imagination and breath and soul. I am a complete person. And for this reason, I am a praying being.

During that same conversation with Lorie, I kvetched about having a sweet time in prayer some days, but then I have to get up from my chair and enter my regular life. Good Lord Almighty. How has it come to that? This is me turning off the spigot.

Lastly, I believe I am seeing that any intentional time with God is a way of sending myself forward into the experiences of the next moment. It’s a springboard that can ground me.  “. . . in all I do, direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Vaya con Dios.

 

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21 Days

Today is the last day of my 21 day full fast (or juice fast I should probably say) and tomorrow I will transition to the Daniel Fast, basically a vegan diet through the end of Lent. It has been an illuminating time. We humans spend a lot of time dealing with the business food: planning, purchasing, preparing and finally eating, but then cleaning up and storing what’s left. My days were less preoccupied. My time in prayer was without hurry. Being faithful to alone time with God was much easier. The discipline was worth it.

My challenges in walking out God’s truth have not changed as much as I had hoped. But I have been more aware of my choices and tendencies throughout the day and for that I am grateful. My heart has been open and quicker to forgive. It’s a process.

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” [Matthew 6:16-18]

Today is a day for giving thanks. Spring is upon us. As the shoots begin their journey upward, so does my soul climb.

 

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Self Absorbed

It’s a confession. Self-absorbed says it all. Not so much that it’s all about me, just spending way too much time and energy on how “me” is doing. How do I look? How’s my weight? Should I cut my hair? Should I meet a man? How will I support myself? Worries and questions are like a drumbeat within.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? [Matthew 6:25-26] 
My prayer time has been wrapped in the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. It keeps me on track and gives more focus to my time alone. But if it is true, that I am committed to “Your will be done,” then one would think I’d have a freedom. And for the time I sit in my chair and keep my eyes and heart on God, I feel it. But then I have to take a shower and feed the dogs and cats and clean the cat box and get dressed for the day and and and and. Your will be done loses resonance. The old “honey-do” list is a “me gotta do” list. “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” [Luke 10:38a, NIV] 
I know. I know. But like Yoda says, I do not do.
Practicing the presence of God is a discipline. But I’m pretty sure my self-absorption gets in the way. It is a choice, a conscious one, that must be exercised throughout the day. Can I teach myself to be absorbed with the Presence instead? Can I look for Jesus in the eyes that I meet, look for the Holy Spirit all around me?
Breathe.

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prayer-1Come close and listen,
    all you who honor God;
    I will tell you what God has done for me:
My mouth cried out to him
    with praise on my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart,
    my Lord would not have listened.
But God definitely listened.   
    He heard the sound of my prayer.
Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer;
    he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. [Psalm 66: 16-20]

In the Restore Church Lent Devotional for 2017, this passage from the Psalms is highlighted. And the phrase about the sound of prayer jumped out at me. What is that really?

Is it the sound of my voice? Of course, there are times of praying out loud. I think it helps keep me centered in the moment when I pray out loud. But God does not necessarily need to hear my voice to know my prayer. There is the prayer that comes with music and singing. I don’t sing as much in my prayer time as I used to do, but much is said about God hearing music as a form of worship, adoration, and of course, prayer.

Instead, it’s a deeper sound. In verse 18, it is written that evil in my heart (or sin) would have gotten in the way of the sound of my prayer. God would not listen, by choice.

For this reason, I find myself in confession from the beginning; I ask God to empty my heart of the resentments I have carried through the day or day before, to empty my heart of judgments and jealousy and envy, to empty my heart of disappointment. I want God to hear my heart in prayer, my mind in prayer, my soul.

I understand why some Eastern traditions use a bell whose vibrations linger, I can imagine the clearing of my inner self would be like one of these bells, the sound of my prayer on its tail.

Hear my prayer O Lord. 

 

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Will You Fast?

prayer-and-fastingDuring lent, one of the practices we are asked to consider is fasting. Historically, fasting implies the cessation of eating. But over time, particularly in our culture, this has morphed into “giving up” something. And so we find people say they will give up soda or sweets or caffeine. Some people now give up other soft pleasures like Facebook or gaming or television. It’s an interesting development. I have done the same thing over the years. It’s not a bad thing per se, but we may have missed the point.

If I think about the many habits I have given up for Lent, most of them I should probably give up anyway. I mean, they’re not really good for me. I remember the first year I gave up diet soda. Well, for heaven’t sake, that should be a permanent thing, for who doesn’t know that diet drinks are terrible for the body? So, what have I done there? I’ve used a spiritual “practice” to motivate me to give up something I don’t need.

Instead, I think a better fast might be something else–a beloved or necessary thing. And for this reason, I have chosen to begin a full fast of food for a period of time and then clear liquids. I love to eat. I need to eat. But I want to be truly conscious and intentional in this season. I want to be uncomfortable and out of step with my normal routine. I want to experience a change within.

There are habits of mind that I would like to break: judgments and gossip and resentment. These require a mindfulness that only comes with breaking out of the norm.

A full fast is not for everyone. I get that. But I have fasted at length before and I know its benefits. But I also know its traps like hoping to lose a few pounds or to be perceived as “holier” than others. Beware or just be aware. That’s the plan.

Another aspect I am adding this time is daily communion. Last night during the Ash Wednesday service, after fasting all day, the taste of a small piece of bread and juice was a tangible reminder of Christ’s presence in my life, as Jesus answered his tempter in Matthew 4:4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” For me, communion became the Word made flesh as I took it.

Amen.

 

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purposeI will never forget my mother saying to me one morning, not long after reaching her 90th birthday, I just don’t know what I should do with the rest of my life. At the time, she felt hardy and hopeful and she was ready to take on something new. This idea of seeking purpose and planning toward it, has been with us all for a long time. Self-help books abound, whether secular or faith-based, “What is your purpose? What is the point? What is God’s will for my life?”

For the past few months, I have been participating in a series of classes under the umbrella of the Hillsong Ministry School at Restore Church. The entire first semester was like a walk through the Bible, broad swaths of understanding and patterns. But this semester is turning inward. Who am I in relationship with God, with Christ, with the Church?

rich-young-rulerTwo weeks ago, after class, I actually went home deeply depressed. I was feeling overwhelmed with I was not. I had a sharp and somewhat uncomfortable epiphany in which I understood the plight of the “rich young ruler” [Mark 10:17-23]. Not because I am a woman of wealth, per se, but there are experiences I still want to have and things I want to do that are not wrapped inside the cocoon of the church. And so, like him, I hung my head a bit and walked away. I want to be an expression of God in every day life, there is no doubt about that. And my faith in God is steady and even deep, but I am feeling a push back within. (In a recent sermon, Jess talked about the way he had been limiting his exercise: “I’ll do anything, just don’t ask me to do cardio.” — so it is with me, I guess.)

But I am off the homework questions of what God’s purpose is for my life? The correct answer is that everyone’s love-the-lordpurpose is pretty much the same: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength, and your neighbor as yourself; AND, go into all the world and preach the gospel. . . ”  That has manifested as serving in the local church, adopting children, performing and speaking for about the things of God, and blogging my heart devotionally. Can I say that I have been called by God to these things? Not with confidence.

Some years ago, I spent a long time working through a study to help me articulate a personal mission. I still use it on my site: My personal mission is to inspire meaningful change, build faith in God, and connect people with resources that will make a difference in their lives. This sentence grounded me in my work at the library as well as my work in the church and my work in the arts.

I believe God has blessed my writing and indulges my desire to write both devotional and secular material. But I would also like to use my 30 plus years of marriage and faith to counsel others; is it too late to go in that direction? I don’t know. I want to simplify my life.

passionMy strengths are my passion for God, my enthusiasm for the things that resonate within me, my ability to speak in a group with confidence, my humor, my writing. My weaknesses are my losses – words don’t come as quickly as they di did before, I forget names and faces, my memories are no longer crystal clear. I am a bit adrift since Mike’s death and although I soldier on, I am a bit unhinged for he grounded me. I scatter my energy across an array of interests. For those who know the Enneagram, I am a true seven.

I am pretty capable with technology, although I am losing ground as “virtual reality” becomes more pervasive and I never really did much gaming. It’s not that I didn’t really like it, I was afraid of becoming addicted to it for I do have an addictive personality (which I learned the hard way back in the day before my faith in Christ cut me loose — I don’t test God in this anymore).

I’m not as good of a listener as I should be. I tend to be a “fixer.”

Don’t want to ask others what they think my strengths are etc. I know what they will say. I’ve been around this bend too often. They see what I let them see. I don’t have many friends, but the few who are close are far. I am not perceived as needing any.

prayerMy spiritual goal is to become a more consistent woman of prayer, working toward achieving a 5% tithe of my waking time spent in direct conversation, contemplation, and reflection within 6 months from today. Some of the strategies I will use will be to plan for prayer each day and week. 5% of 16 hours is approximately 45-50 minutes a day. I will record my time and what I learn in whatever time I spend, whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour, but I will see an increase over the weeks. And out of that time in prayer, I expect to return to familiarity and intimacy. And from there, this idea of purpose will be grow more authentically.

victorian-writerMy life goal is still to write a book, no not just write it, but finish it (after all the re-writes) and get it published. And then another. And another. And quite honestly, to have success in this arena, I must give, at minimum, the same amount of time. Funny. I have a gut feeling that these two efforts were always joined at the hip. So be it.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lordtrust in him and he will do this . . . [Psalm 37:3-5, NIV]

 

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