Life, it seems, is coming at us faster than ever. Longer hours at work, more stress, commutes, repairs, exercise, relationships, and endless social connections that encourage us to remain linked in, with updated status reports and timeless tweets – add it all up and life can feel like a video game. It’s coming at you and you’re reacting. Reacting, though, is much different than living. When I’m reacting, I end up preaching because I’m expected to say something, rather than because I’ve something to say. I feel scattered, ineffective, stressed.
I’ve felt this way too much in 2010, and so I’m heading back to “first things”, foundational truths that are considered foundational precisely because life can be built on them. I Samuel 30 tells the story of a time in David’s life when he felt overwhelmed. After some enemies ransacked a village, stealing his wives and children, he was overwhelmed with grief. On top of that, his few faithful friends were so angry over the kidnapping that they blamed David for it and there was talk of stoning him to death. It was a bad week. We all have them, though not often to that degree.
The first thing David did, we learn, was he “strengthened himself in the Lord”. This is the best first thing any of us could do, before diet, exercise, yoga classes, new goals and objectives, or attending another seminar. Billions are made each year by capitalizing on our fundamental discontent – our sense of dis-ease that sends us looking in a thousand directions for ways to make life better. I’d like to humbly suggest that whatever you’re resolving to do differently in 2011, if you don’t have any habits that help you strengthen yourself in the Lord, start there. Specifically:
I resolve to pray 5 minutes a day – at least 5 days a week.
If that sounds overwhelming, here are five options for structuring your five minutes of prayer:
1. write your prayers in a journal. This helps you keep track of your prayers and see progress (or areas where you might be stuck).
2. meditative prayer means that you memorize a prayer, like the Lord’s prayer, or the 23rd Psalm, or the prayer of St. Francis. Then, having memorized it, you say it slowly, offering a phrase (aloud or silently) with each exhaling breath.
3. contemplative prayer – which means, practically, sitting silently and envisioning the reality that you are wrapped in the arms of a loving God. You don’t need to say anything, and when your mind wanders (it will) you simply return to pondering God’s loving presence. Another way of doing this is to repeat a word that God might give you. I’ll sometimes pray this way: “I receive your wisdom Lord – thank you” or instead of wisdom, maybe ‘peace’, ‘patience’, ‘courage’ or whatever is needed for the day.
5. talk to God – if you’re not a journal keeper, then just talk with God. If you need some structure to the conversation, try categories: a) Give thanks for a blessing you’ve experience (whether a sunrise, or good conversation, or….) b) confess where you’ve failed or are struggling, and thank God for his forgiveness c) request from God things that are own your heart, as you express your need for provision, direction, healing d) pray for others, asking God to respond to situations in your sphere of concern.
I don’t want to guilt anyone into this. I do want everyone who reads this to know that I’ve never met anyone who has grown into a sense of genuine intimacy with God who would easily walk away from their time with God in prayer. What’s more, habits of prayer have marked those whose lives have overflowed with blessing of Christ, for countless generations. You don’t “skip prayer” and know intimacy with God. Prayer has been foundational for millions, for generations. So simple. So transformative. So rare.
We’re in a state of information overload and as a result, it’s easy for us to end up worrying about many things in the world: money, sexuality, terrorism, which party is in power, how to lose weight, what will happen to the economy (and our jobs), singleness, marriage, children, aging parents. As we flit from worry to worry, the life gets sucked out of us, and we find ourselves weary, confused, overwhelmed – at least some of us do.
If we pray first, though, our answers are built on the foundation of intimacy with our creator. Can you think of a better foundation? Neither can I. That’s why I’m calling our church to develop habits of prayer in 2011, and I hope you’ll join us.
I hope we can help each other, in 2011, become people who pray.
Please share your own thoughts on:
1. why regular prayer times can be hard to acheive
2. what benefits you’ve found from regular prayer times
Thanks! I’ll be writing more about this after I return from Africa.