Prayer: Day 9 -10

 

 

Day 9

How do I go deeper in prayer?

Reading the Bible each day is a basic part of the Christian diet. Other spiritual books, apps and podcasts can also be very helpful. I’ve tried to signpost just a few resources here that might help you take the next step in your prayer journey.

Reflective Bible reading

This way of reading the Bible reflectively is traditionally known as Lectio Divina (“holy reading”). It dates back to the early centuries of the Christian Church and St Benedict encouraged its use in monasteries in the sixth century. It is a way of praying the Scriptures that leads us deeper into God’s word. We slow down. We read a short passage more than once. We chew it over slowly and carefully. We savour it. Scripture begins to speak to us in a new way. It speaks to us personally, and aids that union we have with God through Christ who is himself the Living Word.

You can do it on your own; with those who share your home, or in a group or a conference call with others.

A prayer before Bible reading

O Lord, you have given us your word

for a light to shine upon our path.

Grant us so to meditate on that word,

and to follow its teaching,

that we may find in it the light

that shines more and more

until the perfect day;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(A prayer before Bible reading, after Jerome (420))

The Psalms

The psalms have always had a very significant place in Christian prayer. In today’s church they are not as familiar as they used to be, though many churches and cathedrals still say or sing the psalms as a regular part of their worship. Perhaps now is the time to renew our acquaintance with the “prayer book of the Bible”?

 The psalms give us words to express our joy, our faithfulness, our frustration, and our fear. The Psalms are a tremendous resource for our praying, especially when we’re not sure what to say. This is the reason they endure. The psalms give us words to express our joy, our faithfulness, our frustration, and our fear.

Whatever you are feeling about almost any given situation, there is a psalm that will match it and trump it. So, if you are feeling joyful, there is a psalm that is more joyful than you. If you are feeling alienated or alone, there is a psalm that is more isolated than you. At our time of need we have words at hand. And at the same time these same words extend and enlarge our faith.

Jesus died with the words of the psalms on his lips and in his heart. The words that he had learned in his youth sustained him. For Christians, some of these psalms – especially Psalm 22 and Psalm 69 – become profound mediations on Christ’s passion and death. When we face suffering, perhaps the illness or death of a loved one, then these are words that we can turn to. Jesus obviously knew at least some of the psalms by heart. Ours is an age where some of the spiritual and disciplines which helped to form our forebears as Christians have fallen into disuse. So, for instance, the idea of reading prayers and learning things by heart is out of fashion.

Here is a last little challenge: why not learn a psalm by heart – perhaps Psalm 23 that most comforting of psalms suggested at the end of the previous section? If you do this, you will be giving yourself a gift that will last lifetime, a prayer that you can draw on in your hour of need.

Prayer beads

This ancient way of praying uses knotted string or beads. The prayer is rhythmic. As we pass each knot or bead through our fingers, we say short prayers that have been committed to memory. The most famous of these forms of prayer is called the rosary. As a set pattern of prayers is recited, the person praying meditates on different aspects of the Christian story. You can find the set prayers online if you would like to explore this way of praying. Once you have got into the rhythm of the prayer, you can concentrate on the story of the gospel as you recite the prayers.

Prayer beads and prayers string can be great for children

Prayer beads and prayer strings can be great for children. They will enjoy making them as well as using them. You can either follow a set pattern, like the rosary, or make up your own patterns. “Don’t make your prayer life depend on the whims of the moment; make it a regular, daily practice. God is always present, always loving , and he is waiting for you.” Michael Quoist, The Christian Response

There are plenty of books that you can read about prayer. Much of the material here is adapted from my own longer book How to Pray: alone, with others, at any time, in any place, which includes a list of further resources. The Pilgrim Course is shaped around reflective reading of the Bible. A good place to start is the course on The Lord’s Prayer. There are sample sessions – and free audio and video resources – available to download on The Pilgrim Course website. The Church of England’s Daily Prayer app offers a daily diet of psalms and Bible readings.

 

Day 10

Now I’ve started, how do I keep going?

When we pray, we are not putting money in the heavenly slot machine to get what we want or to make a transaction with God. Prayer isn’t just asking for things. We can and do ask for things. What could be more natural than to come to the one we love with the requests and concerns of our hearts? But more than asking for what we want, prayer is receiving from God what God wants to give us. When we pray, we are resting in the presence of the one who loves us and who knows what is best for us. This is why we keep going with prayer, even when it is hard. We don’t give up on the ones we love. To know God and to know that we are loved by God is the only reward we need.

Many people find prayer difficult because they have a picture in their mind of what it is supposed to be like. Then they feel a failure if their prayers don’t match up. Sitting in blissful silence for half an hour, your mind empty of everything but God? A wildly joyful and ecstatic experience in which you speak in tongues of Pentecostal fire? Or eloquently bringing before God the needs of everyone and everything in the world? If you imagine that prayer will always be like one of these, then you probably won’t get very far.

But prayer is relationship with God. So, like every other relationship, it is nurtured in small acts of attentive kindness. In the best and most intimate relationships sometimes it’s just enough to be in the presence of the one you love. You don’t necessarily have to do or say anything. But small words and gestures of love will always help.

Knowing God is not the only way to be happy in life. There are many happy and fulfilled people in the world who are not Christians. But the fullness that we long for only comes from God, because everything which is good and fulfilling ultimately comes from God. And nothing which is good is outside the heart of God. So, when we seek the heart of God in prayer, we are seeking the deepest joy of all and the deepest fulfilment. When we pray, we come to the peak of the mountain in whose foothills we have always wandered.

More than asking for what we want, prayer is receiving from God what  God wants to give us.

Also, the results, such as they are, are most likely to be seen by others, not us. As St Paul says, as we see the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, so we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (1 Corinthians 3.18).

Making your life a prayer

When we start to live this way – knowing we are loved by God, being secure in that love, and bringing everything to God – then we find that the whole of life becomes a prayer, an offering of praise to God. This life is nurtured and watered by regular times of prayer. But slowly – and over the course of a lifetime it changes everything. Even the world. When we start to live this way . . . we find that the whole of life becomes a prayer.

Someone once asked me how long this takes? I was able to give them a precise answer. It takes a lifetime. By happy coincidence that is exactly how much time each one of us has been given. One lifetime to live in praise of God and to be part of God’s mission of love to the world.

“Your prayer will take

countless forms …

Sometimes you will taste and see

how good the Lord is …

Sometimes you will be

dry and joyless …

Sometimes you will be able

to do nothing else

but take your whole life

and everything in you

and bring them before God.

Every hour has its own possibilities

of genuine prayer.

So set yourself again and again

on the way of prayer.”

(Rule For a New Brother)

Go back through this material and highlight parts that call out to you. Think about how you could act on one of them today. If you’ve found this helpful, who do you know who would benefit from reading this? Find a way to share it with them.

Prayer

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new:

transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,

and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, Amen.

(The Collect for the Second Sunday of Epiphany, Common Worship)

 

 

 

 

 

 


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