As we continue our look at the Classical Spiritual Practice of prayer, I’d like to offer another approach to prayer which is both classic, and potentially controversial. The controversy comes into play when people insist that a more formal approach to prayer, like we discussed in last week is the only proper way to pray.
As I’ve mentioned before, God relates to each of us a little differently, and this is nothing that should come as a shock to anyone. God knows us and how to relate to each of us; He created us. As for me, I think that both approaches are not only valid, but that they enhance each other and deepen my relationship with our Lord when used together. Is my opinion right or wrong? I don’t know, but it works for me. Will it work for you too? I don’t see why it wouldn’t, but the only way for you to find out is to give both a try.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
What is God’s will for us? Where can we find joy? Is it God’s will that we find joy? What should we pray about?
All these questions are answered in the three short verses above. God’s will for us is that we be joyful, that we pray continually, and that we give thanks in all circumstances.
I don’t know about you, but this seems rather simple to me. Why do so many people say that it is so hard?
When we pray, whose presence are we in? God’s, of course.
How easy is it to slip back into the old ways when we are in His presence? Not very, for we are centering on our relationship with Him. We fall backwards when we are looking away from Him, isn’t that right? So, maybe the key is to do what Paul said, and pray continually!
But how? We have families, chores, jobs, school… The answer is so easy and so obvious that most of us miss it: just talk to Him.
Yes, that’s right, just talk to Him!!!
Talk to the Lord all the time. Start when you wake up, “Good morning, Lord, thanks for a new day.” Was that difficult? Then, as you get ready, keep talking to Him about your day, about the things on your mind, about how much you love Him, and how thankful you are for all that He has done in your life, and the lives of those around you. Talk to Him about how much you want to serve Him today, and that you want to serve Him today because you love Him. Talk to Him on your way out the door, on the bus, in traffic, at your work station. Talk to Him about your work and how you want to do the very best you can so that that He can be glorified… because of how much you love Him. Talk to Him at lunch, on your way home, in the kitchen, at the dinner table…
Develop the habit of talking to God. Approach this not in fear and trembling, but as though you are with your very best friend in all the world… because you are! He is the friend that you can say everything to, your fears, your sins, your mistakes… He knows about them anyway, so why not get these things off your chest? You see, we don’t need any formal written prayers, that are of dubious value anyway, for this isn’t a corporate or ceremonial thing. It’s just you and the Lord. Nobody needs to know, except for the Lord… but soon, everybody will see the difference it makes in who you are and how you behave. They will see your joy, your inner peace and your new inner strength. Your whole outlook on life will change as you make this practice a part of who you are in Christ.
None of this means that you might not have a more formal time set aside for prayer and reflection; this will enhance it. This does not mean that you don’t study the Word; it will enhance your study. This does not mean that you skip church; it will enhance church.
Some of you will note that I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before by others, and that is true. This practice of continual prayer is as old as the Scriptures, and over the centuries many have written about it, including Brother Lawrence in the classic “The Practice of the Presence of God.” You need not take my word for it, you can get that on the internet for free.
Or, you can just start talking to God right now. Tell Him how much you love Him in your own simple words, in your own heartfelt way.
Here’s a suggestion: Set aside a regular time for prayer every day. For most people, first thing in the morning is best. If you are concerned that you will run out of time before work or school, get up earlier. I am up by 4 am most days, and although this used to be difficult, now that I’m used to it, the pre-dawn is my favorite time of day. Try the method I set out last week. You can be formal or informal, whichever works best for you. Then, talk with God as much as you can for the rest of your day; you see, these two approaches to prayer are not mutually exclusive.