D.I.Y. seems to be all the rage these days. Home improvement stores, arts & crafts shows, Pinterest – everywhere you look there are ideas for how to do things for yourself in creative ways. I think that’s great – I love D.I.Y. projects. So, why not make prayer into a D.I.Y. project? Makes perfect sense to me! Today we come to the end of our series on prayer by talking about HOW we might be able to pray well. We talked about whether or not God listens to our prayers and decided the answer was “yes”. Then we talked about how we should approach God in prayer and learned that there are guidelines:
- Guard your steps;
- Draw near to listen;
- Let your words be few;
- Watch your tone;
- And keep your word
Then last week we talked about how our expectations affect whether we recognize the answers to our prayers. Today I want to spend some time talking about how we can take all this information and put into practice in our own prayer life. Let’s begin by looking more closely at the prayer Jesus taught when he said, “Pray then in this way…” We have talked before about being careful about what we say when we pray. I’d like to take a few minutes now to watch a video from Francis Chan, noted preacher and teacher, as he explains the Lord’s Prayer from his perspective. [Please note that this video is part of a much longer series and there are some images woven into it that do not make much sense unless you see the whole series. Please try to set those aside and listen to what Chan is saying about prayer.]
[VIDEO: “Chan Prayer” – 5:10]
It is so important that we really think about what we are saying when we pray to God. Simply reciting prayers from memory, as we tend to do sometimes, does not show the respect and love for God that we should be showing.
God is as close to us as our own breathing. God’s presence in the world is manifest in God’s Holy Spirit. Breath and spirit are closely linked in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. In the book of Job, Elihu tells Job, “the spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty gives me life,” In the gospel of John, when Jesus appeared to the disciples after resurrection, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” “Breath Prayer” is a natural response to the presence of the Holy Spirit. The most effective breath prayer is the one you create for yourself. Here are some steps that you may find helpful.
- Begin by asking God to help you form your breath prayer.
- Ponder your favorite name for God. For some it might be God, others prefer using the name of Jesus, Wisdom, Pure Love, Holy Spirit, Source of Life, Ground of our Being. Choose the name or image for the God that resonates deeply with you.
- Reflect for a moment on what it is you need or what you may want to express in your breath prayer. Come up with a short phrase that fits. It should be short enough to say in one breath.
- You will put these two together in any way you like. I’ll give some examples of this kind of breath prayer so you know what I mean.
Freedom, in Christ
God, grant us peace
Lord, hear my prayer
Heal me, Loving God
- Once you determine what your breath prayer is, you inhale on part one, and exhale on part two. Allow the breath to carry the words along with it. Say the prayer over and over (silently or aloud), like a mantra. Before long, you will find you are “breathing the prayer.” Allow the breath prayer to gently lead you to that place of inner silence and calm—the place where you don’t need to say the words any more. This is known as the place of contemplation.
- If you want, write your breath prayer on a small piece of paper and carry it with you as a reminder to keep breathing and praying.
You may find that a breath prayer helps you breathe more easily through your day.
Feel free to change your breath prayer from time to time to suit your life’s circumstances.
Or you may feel so connected to your original one that you use it exclusively to lead you into contemplative silence. You can do what you want with it. God gave you the prayer to deepen your relationship with God, so enjoy it.
An ancient art once practiced by all Christians is the technique known as “Lectio Divina”. This is a slow, contemplative way of praying the Scriptures, enabling the Word of God to speak deeply into our hearts. When we read Scripture in this way we are reminded of the prophet Elijah as we listen for the still, small voice of God; the faint murmuring sound that is God’s Word for us. Lectio Divina is about reading and then listening. We must learn to love silence. The practice of lectio divina requires that we first quiet down in order to hear God’s word for us. The reading/listening of lectio divina is very different from the task-oriented reading we are accustomed to. We are not reading a novel or the news or a website; we are reverently encountering God’s word. We must read slowly and attentively, listening for God to speak to us through a particular word or phrase. Once we have come upon the word or phrase that God is speaking to us this day, we then take time to contemplate what God is trying to say. We see the example of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she “pondered in her heart” the words of the Angel Gabriel. This image reminds us that we must take in the Word, memorizing it, gently repeating it to ourselves as we allow it to interact with our thoughts, our hopes, and our memories. This meditation allows God’s word to become his word for us personally. The next step is to allow this personal word from God to shape your prayer. We allow this particular word or phrase to touch and transform our deepest selves. We are transformed by the Word of God. Finally, spend time simply sitting and enjoying the silence and peace of God’s presence. It is a time in our relationship with God where words simply are not necessary, nor are they enough. Contemplation – wordless, quiet rest in the presence of God. Lectio Divina is a technique that must be practiced and it’s not for everyone. It is one more opportunity to learn to come closer to God in prayer. Think about spending time with God pondering what he might be saying to you, “beside still waters.”
The last prayer method I want to share this morning has to do with prayer beads. This is a long mis-understood aspect of prayer that has its roots in ancient tradition. Prayer beads are used in many religious cultures, either to help maintain focus during prayer time or simply to keep the fingers occupied during times of stress. Let’s begin with a brief history lesson.
History of Prayer Beads
Prayer beads are commonly associated with the Middle Ages (A.D. 600-1400) and Roman Catholicism. Their use, however, is universal and predates the Christian Era. Christianity, in fact, was the last of the major religions to employ prayer beads in an important ritualistic role. Even today, the religions of nearly two-thirds of the world’s population utilize some form of prayer beads. During the medieval period, when jewelry was discouraged by the church, rosaries were acceptable as convenient portable devices for counting prayers. Their purpose was to assist the worshiper in accurately repeating prayers from memory. Although the number, arrangement, and materials of prayer beads are different with each religion, there are shared concepts that link the beads of the major faiths. There are many ways to use prayer beads; the point is that they can help to focus your thoughts and establishing a rhythm for prayer. Again, this may not be something that works for you, but it is an acceptable practice for many Christians who seek sensory aids for prayer. Entering into prayer with all our senses is essential to being immersed in God’s presence.
Other helpful prayer devices include:
Prayer boxes: Here you may write down your prayer concerns and place them in the box. The idea is that you are now releasing them to God.
Prayer journals: A journal gives you the chance to write longer notes to God and to keep prayer lists for those people and causes you want to call to mind regularly. Prayer journals help to remind you of the many things you want to include in your prayers; plus, you can look back and celebrate answers to your prayers. You might even get into the habit of writing down the answers to past prayers.
A Prayer Board is a great way to keep prayer requests visible for your whole family. Anyone can add a note to the board asking for prayer or celebrating God’s answers.
The point of all this is to say that prayer is about your relationship with God and you should feel free to devise methods that work best for you. Join a prayer group (like the one we have on Tuesday mornings at 10) or take a class (like Virginia’s “Praying Backwards” study starting next Sunday.) Most importantly – PRAY – and listen for God in the midst of your prayers. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.