Welcome back! Week 5 marks the halfway point in our virtual immersion experiment – if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! And if you’re poking around five months later, there’s no shame in that either. 🙂 Everyone has their own timetable when it comes to spiritual journey, and sometimes a mallet just doesn’t make sense until you finally come across a peg. Or something. I’m a little punchier in the evening, so forgive me.

Definition

The words prayer and meditation are often used interchangeably, but in practice they’re significantly different, although related. While meditation is focusing on one word or thought for a sustained period of time, prayer is simply a conversation between us and God. It’s often thought that meditation is listening to God and prayer is talking to God – but if prayer is a conversation, we certainly can’t be doing all the talking. Experentially, I believe the difference is in the focus: in meditation, if we begin to think of something else, we discipline our minds to return to the thought at hand so it can sink in deeply and we can fully absorb its sustenance or its sharpening. In prayer, the conversation can develop naturally, such that both parties alternately speak and listen, but the participants can freely follow the conversational topics as they develop. The biggest benefit of prayer is that it develops your relationship with God. You share what’s on your mind, and you take time to listen to God’s response. The more time we spend talking with God, the more we’ll learn to recognize his voice – and when we quiet ourselves to listen, we’ll gradually hear more and more of what he’s saying to us.

The Prerequisite: Trusting God

Prayer is the language of intimacy with God. In my experience, the biggest block to actually praying (rather than merely believing prayer is a good idea) is believing that God really cares about us and wants to develop a relationship with us. If our heart does not trust God, we will not pray (for long) – no matter how good of an idea we think it is. How long would you have the stamina to try to hold a conversation with a blank wall? Or a belligerent boss? Just as we will avoid conversations with people we dislike (even secretly), distrust, or believe do not like us, we will avoid conversation with God if deep down we believe he doesn’t care about us. So if we find ourselves avoiding prayer, we can be sure that somewhere deep down, we don’t believe God cares intimately about us and/or we don’t trust him.

The good news is that we don’t have to unearth all the bad things that ever happened to us that might have caused us to believe God doesn’t love us or caused us not to trust God in order to learn to pray. The bad news is that we learn to pray simply by … praying. We just start talking and are respectful enough to give our conversation partner the chance to get a word in edgewise. If we feel that God doesn’t care about us, or we’re overwhelmed by some aspect of our lives, that’s exactly where we start. Imagine you were sitting down to talk with a best friend who had known you since you were a child, knew your strengths and weaknesses completely, and was always on your side. What would you say?

It’s so hard to believe that God longs for an intimate relationship with us. I don’t believe it half the time – but that’s where the discipline of prayer comes in. We sit down and talk with God and let him talk to us because we choose to live according to the truth – that God has already proven his love for us through the cross, and there is no more condemnation for anything we’ve ever done or will do – and not according to our unresolved hurt feelings. Jesus was not a staid, even-keel, philosophical kind of guy when he was on earth. His parables about what we mean to God were extravagant and passionate and almost impossible to get our minds around. He said God was like a father who, after his younger son weaseled him out of his inheritance and spent it all on drinking and sex and then finally returned home only when he had nowhere else to go, RAN WITH JOY to meet him – simply because he was his son and he was finally home. He didn’t grudgingly or self-righteously open the door, listen patiently to his son’s groveling, and then after long thought decide to forgive him – he ran to him, and immediately slaughtered the best calf and threw a huge party. That’s how God feels when you start a conversation with him, sharing what’s on your mind. Or – Jesus often spoke of himself as the bridegroom and we, his people, are the bride – before the wedding. That’s the kind of longing and passion our God has for us.

Our eyes and ears are dulled simply because we haven’t spent enough time with him to even know what he thinks of us. So we have to begin with discipline: choosing to start the conversation even though we don’t feel like it. But the good news is that all this is really true. The more time we spend with him, the more we’ll be able to receive his love, one trickle at a time. Soon the trickle will grow to a steady stream, and then a flood. But we need to develop the capacity for receiving that kind of love expressed through intimate conversation. We need to learn to trust slowly. We need to learn to pray.

The Practice

Prayer has as many forms as there are human beings in the world, and I was going to list several forms to help you in your practice this week, but suddenly I have been moved to spare you that, and to simply say, just start sharing your heart. Whatever you’re stressed about, whatever you’re angry about, whatever seems simply beyond your abilities, whatever you’re excited about, whatever you’re thinking at all – even if it’s wondering whether you should get a snack, share it with God. Simply share verbally or through your thoughts. And then, when there’s a natural pause in your side of the conversation, extend it. Listen. And see if God answers. He usually answers in the same language as your thoughts. Something will occur to you that has the inexplicable (and usually unexplainable) weight of truth. You simply know something deeply that you didn’t before. That was God answering you. Sometimes you will simply feel the comfort or safety of a presence. That was God answering you. Then keep the conversation going, until it’s time to get on with what’s next in the day.

Exercise

So for your exercise in prayer this week, the only discipline I want you to have in prayer is to set aside thirty minutes for each of the next seven days to have a conversation – to speak the language of intimacy with your God. No holds barred. The only rules are that you hang in there with him for thirty minutes, that you share honestly, and that you give him a chance to answer. Another week we will cover the discipline of praying for others, for examination, for praise and thanksgiving, and for all the other types of prayer, but for this week, I am convinced that we all need to focus on developing our personal intimate relationship with God – to move past whatever blocks we may have as a result of our history or our beliefs regarding whether he is really for us or not. He’ll tell you. Just ask him.

I look forward to seeing what this week brings! As always, post your comments, experiences, and questions here, or email me directly at info@amandarooker.com.

Advertisements