The evangelical way of praying has a lot to commend it. Find a quiet place, preferably first thing in the morning. Sit. Close your eyes.
Start talking to God…
It’s simple, straightforward, and has served a lot of people quite well over the years. Over the last four years, however, I have come to recognize that it is only one way of praying. What’s more, many Christians reach a place in their spiritual journey where ‘evangelical prayer’ is no longer a helpful way of entering the presence of God.
I hear objections in the background. Other types of prayer aren’t as intimate. Won’t using written prayers mean that our prayers aren’t really ours? Isn’t repetitious prayer, well, repetitious? Didn’t Jesus warn against babbling like the pagans?
It’s not that we need to get rid of evangelical prayer altogether. What’s necessary is that, from time to time, we supplement it with some other form of prayer that more readily connects with where we are spiritually and physically. After all, we weren’t created for prayer so much as prayer was created for us.
I have found prayer quite difficult over the last several years, especially the last year with a young child in our home. In my case, it has been ever so easy for what I felt should have been earnest, intimate conversations with the father, to turn either into intellectual discourses on the nature of existence or the repetitious saying of half-digested statements about how bad and I am and how badly I need God’s forgiveness. In short, I have been stuck in prayer. What’s more, I have found it incredibly difficult to persist in prayer because sitting still and focusing for such a long period of time (10+ minutes) seems almost impossible, conditioned as I am by twitter and facebook to almost instantaneous inputs of information.
What to do? I began the Orthodox practice of praying “The Jesus Prayer” some time ago. It goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”It has it’s roots in the words of the tax collector in Luke: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner” (18:10-14).
It’s a great way to center oneself in order to be able to engage in liturgical or spontaneous prayer and the reading of Scripture.
It can also be supplemented with the use of prayer beads/rope. This is a tool designed to aid us in prayer by helping us to focus on the task at hand by giving us something to fiddle with. It was invented, initially, to give illiterate monks a way to say a consistent number of prayers. The typical rope has 100 knots or beads. The one I use has 33. My practice is to center myself by saying the Jesus prayer (one per bead, 30 on mine) and then a gloria patri for every knot (there are three on my rope). Do this 3 times and find that by the end of the practice I’m more focused, calm, and ready to continue in God’s presence through other forms of prayer and engagement with Scripture.
For the last couple of months I have been using a Lutheran prayer book and have been reading the Psalms from Luther’s book of Psalms (with his commentary). This week I have switched to the using the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship. At other times I have used Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours or The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
Prayer is a lifting of the hear up to God. And, as such, it is central to the Christian life. That’s why it’s so important to realize that one form of prayer will very often not be sufficient to take us through every stage of life. During times of trial and fatigue, it is important to have access to other ways to connect with God. The Jesus Prayer has been such to me.