How to Pray
by Pastor Andy Payton
The only request the disciples appear to have asked of Jesus is that he teach them how to pray (see Luke 11). They didn’t necessarily ask him what to believe; instead, their question centered around how to believe. With this in mind, I am going to share with you one approach to prayer that I learned from E. Stanley Jones.
So, what is prayer? Within this unassuming, seemingly basic question lies a crucial, in-depth understanding of what it is to be Christian. Many of us attempt, albeit unsuccessfully, to bend God’s will to our own desires; however, a true Christian who lives a life of prayer actively brings their will into harmony with God. They intentionally seek to intertwine their lives with God every day, every hour, through prayer.
To adequately spend time in prayer, you must quite your mind. Jones explains that in order to be present to the Presence of God, we must achieve a state of openness, receptive to God’s will. Jones expresses that this state of open-mindedness is the first law, not only of the spiritual life, but also of our physical life. Once we reach a point where our minds are calm and still, we can surrender to and take in the life of God.
This prayerful attitude of silence is echoed in Psalm 46 which admonishes the reader to “Be still and know I am God.” It is also reflected in Jesus’ life. In fact, the gospels tell us there were moments in which Jesus spent the entire night in prayer. I’m convinced Jesus wasn’t necessarily speaking verbally to God, but instead, He was sitting vigil in the presence of the one he called Abba.
It is important to recognize that Jesus did not simply sit for several minutes and pray aloud before resuming his day; Instead, He actively and continually maintained open space for God to move within His life. Jones explains he protects his Quiet Hour- choosing to be present to God without asking for anything- as during that hour, he has everything he needs.
As you begin your own prayer life, I recommend spending between five and twenty minutes in silence; this will allow you to become comfortable and open to a space of receptive rest. If you find your mind wandering from one subject to another, try selecting a word or phrase in order to find a state of being present with God’s presence. One ancient Christian writer recommended using the word God (or Love) to re-establish our intention to be centered in God’s presence. To be clear, this word is not to be used as a mantra, but instead, it is meant to be a practical way for us to re-establish our presence to the Presence of God.
After establishing a state of silent rest, Jones then invites us to speak with God about the things that weigh on our hearts. This can be a person, an event, a sin, anything we feel a desire to share with God. After completing your conversation with God, Dr. Jones advises that we should maintain several more moments of silence; during this time, listen for God’s response. If you do hear an immediate response (this is often not the case), Jones challenges we fulfill the loving actions and thoughts that come to our minds do the loving things which come to our mind; this will help make our prayers reality.
I personally like this approach to prayer as the Spirit leads us; God can speak to us if we have the courage to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit. I share this method with you because my personal prayer is that we can pray together as a church. For without prayer, and without the experience of God in our lives, this entity that we call religion becomes nothing more than a closed book.
The Examen: Nightly Prayer
This practice comes from Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was a Spanish priest who founded the order called the Society of Jesus (Jesuits); he is remembered as a talented spiritual director. He recorded his approach to the spiritual life in a treatise called the Spiritual Exercises. The goal of this practice is to become intentional about finding God in all things. The heart of this practice is, again, reviewing your day and seeking to notice what God is doing. It is important to notice what made you happy, stressed, confused, etc. as well as what helped you become more loving. The idea is that we find God’s unfolding plan for us even in the mundane parts of our life. Ignatius was emphatic about the practice of the Examen. He even went as far as to say that if, for some reason, we did no other spiritual exercise, we should do this one. It is a spiritual tool for planting the seeds for a more purposeful life.
Here are five simple steps for the practice:
Place yourself in God’s presence. Give thanks for God’s great love for you
Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
Review your day- recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.
Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away?
Look toward tomorrow-think of how you might be more intentional about enacting God’s will. Be specific, and conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.