Do you ever worry about things? Do you ever get frustrated? Do you have to interact with difficult people some days? Do you have to make decisions each day? If so, then you are only one small adjustment away from a rich prayer life!
Despite the fact that I’m a “professional Christian,” i.e., a pastor, I struggle with prayer. That’s one reason preaching a sermon on prayer feels extra vulnerable if not hypocritical. My sermon today tried to broaden our conception of prayer beyond just communication to a sense of communion with God. Yes, sometimes prayer can be entered into at set times, in a set location, using set words (e.g., Lord’s Prayer, Psalms). But prayer is more about cultivating a continual mindfulness of God’s presence with us as we go about our daily lives.
Sometimes Jesus would go off to quiet places to pray, but he also lived with a constant awareness of the Father’s presence. Jesus calls it abiding: “Abide in me as I abide in the Father and you will bear much fruit” (John 15:1-17). Similarly, J. C. Ryle described prayer
“To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with Him–to be always leaning on Him, resting on Him, pouring out our hearts to Him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best Friend. To have His words abiding in us, is to keep His sayings and precepts continually before our memories and minds, and to make them the guide of our actions and the rule of our daily conduct and behavior.”
Those of us who are not good at wordy-prayers and who struggle to set aside sacred times of prayer in our “prayer closets,” let us silence the voice of shame beating us up over our flimsy prayer lives and hear Jesus’ invitation:
“Come to me all who are weary and weighed down… Learn the unforced rhythms of grace….Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt 11:28-30)
Skye Jethani shares a great story about Mother Teresa. Years ago, Dan Rather interviewed Mother Teresa and asked her, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”
“I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I listen.”
“Okay,” Rather said, taking another shot at it. “When God speaks to you, then, what does he say?”
“He doesn’t say anything. He listens.”
Dan Rather didn’t know how to continue. He was baffled.
“And if you don’t understand that,” Mother Teresa added, “I can’t explain it to you.”
Skye concludes: “Prayer is about communion, not merely communication. It’s first about presence, rather than petition.” Skye also mentions Thomas Kelly’s classic work, A Testament of Devotion, where he introduces the concept of “simultaneity”—the ability to be engaged with two things at the same time:
“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level, we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a more profound level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings. The secular world of today values and cultivates only the first level believing this is where the real business of mankind is done… But we know that the deep level of prayer is the most important thing in the world. It is at this deep level that the real business of life is determined.”
So, back to our daily lives of daily decisions, worries, interactions, frustrations and routines. To move from a dismal prayer life of “going it alone” with God at a distance, to a rich and vibrant ongoing conversation with God, here’s the simple shift to consider:
Learn to worry out loud in the presence of God.
Make your decisions mindful of God’s presence and guiding Spirit with you. Don’t just ask, “What would Jesus do?” but instead, “Jesus, what should I do here?”
Walk into that awkward conversation with Christ at your side, using your imagination to see Him sitting in the empty chair at the table with you.
If you’re frustrated, be frustrated in His presence. Vent out loud. He can take it.
If your mind wanders off into deep thought in the car, let those thoughts become prayers as you think out loud in His presence.
Worry with Him. Make decisions with Him. Be frustrated with Him by your side. Prayer doesn’t need to be one more activity to fit into your busy life, but instead a continual attentiveness to Him in all our other activities.
This is something we can all practice. With Brother Lawrence let us come to discover for ourselves that “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God” (Brother Lawrence).