Tag Archives: prayer

Nothing

“What will you do in the coming year to be more Christ-like?” we were asked.

“Nothing,” I replied.

Every where I look people are busy rushing and doing. Parents tell us their children are involved in a myriad of after-school activities.

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord,
for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Now there was a great wind,
so strong that it was splitting mountains
and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord,

but the Lord was not in the wind;
and after the wind an earthquake,
but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
and after the earthquake a fire,
but the Lord was not in the fire;
and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
— 1 Kings 19:11-12 (NRSV)

So this year I plan to set aside time to do nothing but listen sit and listen for God, to practice emptying myself so I can be fully present with God, to be aware of what happens around me without reacting to what I see, hear, feel, smell, or taste, and to allow distracting thoughts to float through my conscious.

So this year I intend to set aside at least 15 minutes each day to do nothing but listen for the still small voice of God.

Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down;
and if he calls you, you shall say,
‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
— 1 Samuel 3:9 (NRSV)

My hope is to be able to listen in the midst of the noise and busyness of life. A spirituality instructor had prepared my classmates and I for a period of meditation after lunch. He had lit a candle and dimmed the lights. Then as we sat quietly waiting he turned on a loud raucous radio station. My hope is to learn to allow each thought, each interruption to slide through my conscious, without breaking focus on the one who is directly before me, the one true God, or even a person made in God’s image.

How do you practice releasing distractions and staying focused?

Thy Will Be Done

“Can someone else do that?”

As a leader I have to present and execute the actions of boards that I have moderated. Most times these are easily done, for I usually agree with the other members of the board, at least to some degree. Occasionally, I have disagreed with the board, voted with the minority, even argued strongly against a winning proposition, and then had to carry out the board’s action, even writing letters requesting assistance.

This is the price of leadership.

To write letters those letters, I recall what the winning side had said, then imagine how they might write those letters.

I perceive Jesus expected us to take on  his mind-set when we pray, not merely tack on his name to the end of our prayers. I believe that Jesus came to instruct us how to build up the Kingdom of Heaven, considering his words and actions as we formulate our prayers. When Jesus heard of someone who was ill, he often went to them, touched them, and spoke with them. When praying for peace, I doubt Jesus would have us beg to send someone else, but have us ask what can we do, so that God might do greater things through us.

I tell you the truth,
anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.
He will do even greater things than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And I will do whatever you ask in my name,
so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.
You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
— John 14:12-14 (NIV)

 

Breath Prayers

“Focus on your breath,” a Zen master teaches.

Child's First Prayer
Child’s First Prayer (From the Library of Congress Collection)

Focusing on one’s breath can simply serve as a convenient marker to give one’s mind something to process while spending a few minutes focusing on being fully present in prayer. The breath is convenient for it is always with us. After practice, merely pausing to catch one’s breath might remind one of previous prayer times.

Having something to focus on while sitting quietly listening for God can keep one’s mind from straying to work on problems not immediately present. Taking a few minutes each day to sit quietly, listening for God, and being fully present in the moment, can train one for being fully present in a difficult project or conversation. Having something to focus on can keep one from fretting about yesterday’s mistakes or worrying about what might come later.

“So do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

— Matthew 6:34 (NRSV)

Breath prayers provide an alternative to silently focusing on one’s breath. Breath prayers are short, two-part phrases, that can be said quietly: one half while inhaling and half while exhaling. Breath prayers offer structure so the one praying can focus on being fully present, listening for the small clear voice of God, without latching on to every stray thought that passes through one’s mind.

Breath prayers, or focusing on one’s breath while listening for God, can develop one’s self-control, enhance one’s ability to delay gratification.

Jesus might have used a breath prayer during the crucifixion when he said: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani.” or “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” These first words of Psalm 22 become a source of comfort since David went on to recall how God had been present with him in the past, and boasted that future generations will proclaim his deliverance.

Other passages suitable for breath prayers include:

  • Come Lord Jesus / hear my prayer.
    — see 1 Corinthians 16:22
  • Seek first / God’s kingdom
    — see Matthew 6:33
  • Be still / and know that I am God
    — see Psalm 46:10

The last phrase may also be repeated each time removing the last word. Yielding:

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know that I
Be still and know that
Be still and know
Be still and
Be still
Be

Being still to pray silently lets the one praying enjoy God in the present, equipping that person with calmness of heart and mind, to creatively engage the problems of today.

Other musings on prayer:

Shut Up and Pray

I find leading the Prayers of the People during worship each Sunday requires my full attention. First, I must read slowly and distinctly, with a pacing that evokes a state of prayer. Second, I am editing the written prayer in front of me to link to the sermon and current events. Third, I watch for subtle body language changes from the congregation to my words and pacing. Fourth, in the middle of this prayer, I pause and ask for individual petitions, most of which I cannot hear clearly enough to understand, some of which I are so softly spoken I must guess when the speaker has finished. And finally, I get to attend to my own connection with God after I saying, “and those concerns we hold deep within our hearts,” while I count slowly and silently to seven.

The electronic road signs in Illinois show a new public service announcement: “Drop it and Drive.” Our neighbors to the west have a new law prohibiting talking on a handheld phone while driving. They reason that holding a phone is one to many tasks to do while driving. Unfortunately, merely talking with someone not in the car is the major distraction for the driver’s mind is no longer on the road ahead.

I have come to realize that spoken prayers are like a table edge that a toddler might use to steady himself while learning to walk. Spoken prayers guide our connection with God. But strengthening one’s connection with God requires letting go of the guide and stumbling. First a few seconds of quiet, wordless prayer, which after practice can lengthen to a minute, and eventually, fifteen minutes or more of solid, undistracted connection with God.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites;
for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners,
so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door
and pray to your Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do;
for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

— Matthew 6:5-8 (NRSV).

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Where Is God in All This?

Each time I contemplate a topic for this post, I ask myself: “Where is God in all this?” Then I read the news, comic strips, Facebook posts, the weather, … I take our dog for a walk and consider the stars, the grass, and everything in between. Always asking: “Where is God in all this?”

This practice has started change my prayers. Instead of listing concerns, I have begun listing where God has begun providing answers. Instead of a concern about a particular disease, I have a praise for medical technology through which God is providing healing. Instead of grief of someone’s passing, praise that pain and suffering are past and entrance into God’s presence. Instead of distress about those who are hungry or homelessness, praise for those who provide food and shelter.

Natchez Trace Parkway (R. Shaw photo)
Natchez Trace Parkway (R. Shaw photo)

My Navy experience taught me that providing a list of places to avoid made people dangerously curious. Now I wonder if a list of sailor friendly establishments, might have drastically reduced problems.

Similarly, when driving focusing on the lines separating lanes leads to drifting from one side of the lane to the other. But by focusing on the center of the lane, on a spot where I want my car to go, yields a straight and smooth ride.

By asking, “Where is God in all this?” I tend to look further in to the future recognizing where God is preparing the way for me.

From now on, brothers and sisters,
if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable,
focus your thoughts on these things:
all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure,
all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.
– Philippians 4:8 (CEB)

 

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Preparation

I love the six weeks before Christmas. Each day my calendar becomes increasingly packed with activities and preparation for activities: family dinners, special worship services, and parties.

As life gets increasingly busy, taking time to pray and to listen become increasingly important. In the days ahead plans will get complicated and interrupted. Friends and family members will push our emotional buttons. In these coming days taking time to pause will become increasingly important.

English: An anxious person
An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prayer and meditation allow us to step back from our emotional responses  and use the portion of our brains that is uniquely human, the center for reasoning. This portion of our brains allows people to think things through and consider long term consequences of our actions. But when anxiety flares, when we might most need our ability to reason things through, this portion of our brains gets disconnected and our emotional response kicks in. Perhaps in a primitive time in human development a more emotional response encouraged a flight or fight response, but now, especially in social occasions, those who react emotionally, physically lose it.

In a parable on anxiety Jesus commands us: “Look at the birds … Consider the flowers …” In other words take time to ask: Where is God in all this? What is the bigger picture that all this busyness fits into? And ultimately, where do I fit into God’s mission today?

How do you step back when your emotions attempt to disconnect your God-given ability to think rationally?

With all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment.
Always let him lead you, and he will clear the road for you to follow.
— Proverbs 3:5-6 (CEV)

Call the Expert

Who do you consult with when stymied with a problem?

Oscilloscope with noiseWhen I had been a systems engineer our sonar system had a problem with noise. The test engineer had quickly isolated the cause to one particular cabinet of the 40 refrigerator size cabinets in the system. That cabinet’s designer was perplexed, the noise seemed to come and go for no reason at all. On days when it appeared, he would hook up sensitive test equipment but within minutes the noise would vanish.

Over lunch I put up my feet and consulted with the expert.

“If it varies with temperature, could we stabilize it out-of-band?” I asked returning from lunch.

A hair dryer quickly isolated our problem and the designer added a resistor to fix it.

“How did you find it?” the designer asked.

I had consulted with the best engineer I knew.

Consider your body, an amazing system of systems. Each person also hosts communities of microbes that aid digestion and help fight infections. Its design and complexity are awe-inspiring. Hence in my prayer time I consulted with the Engineer who made me. By comparison, our complex sonar system would be child’s play.

Which problem will you let God help you solve this day?

For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

— Proverbs 2:6 (NIV)

Watch, wait, then Soar

Get ready, watch and wait, and then fly.

Kite soaringSome people launch a kite by running, forcing air under their kite hoping it will rise above the still and turbulent air near the ground to steadier breezes further aloft. My preferred method is to stand and wait. I watch the leaves of near and distant trees anticipating an approaching gust, then toss my kite upward letting out string then pulling it taught hoping the gust will last long enough for the kite to soar ever higher.
Like any discipline, kite flying requires preparation and patience. Many a clear afternoon I have wanted to fly, but the trees would stand still and flags would hang limp. On those days even my most aerodynamic kite will not soar. Earlier today, the wind was strong and turbulent; my lightest kite would be quickly torn to shreds, my heaviest kite quickly took to the air demanding all of my line and pulling it back to earth demanded strength and perseverance while it fought like a big fish.

Spiritual disciplines similarly require preparation, patience, and practice.

Praying handsJust as I have a variety of kites to address a variety of winds, I also have a variety of prayer practices to address a variety of spiritual needs: breezy chat-like prayers for sunny days, breath prayers when life’s turbulence sends me spinning, and silent reflections when the Spirit has sent me soaring.
Just as I have to wait and watch for the wind, judging both its direction and strength, I also have learned to watch and wait for the Spirit. Sometimes the Spirit comes quickly with obvious signs. Other times I must wait and listen for the still clear voice of God.
And each time I must wind up my prayers and fold up my books and return to the other disciplines God has given me. Sometimes this is easy, and others I fight to stay aloft a little longer. But God needs us also to work and play, to eat, and sleep.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

– Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)