Prayer Changes Us

Readings for this week April 30 – May 4
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Being Prepared to Listen

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Samuel 3

God is passionate about speaking to us. His desire is to meet with us, talk to us, and be with us. We are not trying to get in touch with an absent God who is so unwilling to talk to us that he keeps running away from us or ignoring us when we call. The Bible is full of examples of God speaking to people: he spoke to Balaam through a donkey, he talked to Moses through a burning bush, and he got King Belshazzar’s attention by writing on a wall. And, of course, his ultimate word to us was the embodied Word of his son Jesus, incarnate among us. God has a huge variety of methods available to him. Scripture is essentially a record of God’s desire to be with his people.

We don’t need to worry about whether God wants to talk to us—he will do whatever it takes to get through to us. What might need work is how well we listen, how well our lives are set up to allow us the time and space to hear him. A life oriented towards anything other than the loving presence of God will be a life in which the loving voice of God calling to us is slowly drowned out. God called Samuel several times before Samuel was eventually primed to respond to him appropriately. We need to learn to know God’s voice and listen to it; and we do this by making sure we allow ourselves space to hear him, as Samuel eventually did. When God speaks, it’s vital that we are ready to hear.

Questions to Consider
How do you ‘prime’ yourself to be ready to listen to God? What steps do you take to make sure your life is turned towards God and hearing his voice?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for wanting to talk to us and be with us. Help me listen harder, longer, deeper to your voice in my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Preparing Ourselves

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 119:148

Deeper communion with God isn’t necessarily automatic. We cannot make it happen, like flicking a switch. We can’t manipulate God like that, turning the relationship on and off like that. A better way of understanding engaging with God is perhaps supplied by the analogy of when we are going to sleep. We cannot make ourselves fall asleep. We cannot just lie down in bed, close our eyes and will ourselves to fall asleep immediately. Sleep does not happen that way. We cannot make ourselves sleep, but we can create the conditions that allow sleep to happen, we can create an environment that is conducive to sleep occurring, so that when it comes time for us to go to bed, all is in readiness for us to fall asleep quickly.

Communion with God is like this, in that we can create the circumstances in which connecting with God can occur, we can set up our internal focus and our external environment in such a way that conditions for connecting with God are highly favourable. An encounter with the God who wants to be known is still an act of God, not an act of ours. But we can position ourselves and prepare for an encounter; it is up to God to make it happen.

But remember, God is always with us. He is always there, even in times of emergency and stress when we cry out to him. He hears us always, no matter the circumstances of our call. But for sustained, deep, regular, meditative communion with our God, we need to be ready.

Questions to Consider
What is God saying to you? How has he been talking with you today/this week?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me deepen my relationship with you through deepening my time with you. Help me widen the spaces in my life where you can grasp more of me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Centering Ourselves

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 46:10

Regular users of these daily readings will have noticed the phrase “Silence, Stillness and Centering before God” near the top of each page. Silence and stillness, yes, that makes sense; setting aside some time and (quiet) space in order to devotionally attend to these (or any) readings or passages of scripture seems sensible. But what about that word ‘centering’? What does that mean? Is it just another word for ‘stop and be still’? Or does it hint at something else? Are we encouraging something more than just sitting and reading quietly, with a short prayer at the end?

Centering prayer, as recorded and written about, has been part of Christian practice and tradition since at least the time of the Desert Fathers in the third century. Different groups use different practices when it comes to centering prayer, but a simple definition of its function is to cultivate interior silence and stillness in order to facilitate greater openness to God. It is not a replacement for other prayer, but is rather an aid to deeper prayer and connection with God and his loving presence. Thomas Merton described centering prayer as “prayer centred entirely on the presence of God.” As has been stressed in previous readings this week, if we wish to hear from God, we need to attend to him, allow time and space for us to be open to connecting to and hearing from him. Centering prayer, where we stop, relax ourselves, perhaps mentally focusing on a sacred word or phrase, the repetition of which allows us to be more than usually focused on the presence of God, is designed as an aid to this end.

Questions to Consider
What do you think of the idea of centering prayer? Do you already do something similar? How does it help you prepare?

Prayer
Lord God, may I know more of you and experience more of your presence in my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Meditating on Scripture

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Philippians 4:8-9

One of the main tools Christians have used throughout the centuries to aid their prayer is, of course, the Bible. (It is not the only tool; many people engaging in meditative or contemplative prayer have used other devotional writings, paintings, nature, sunrises or sunsets – or have just luxuriated in the loving presence of God.) The Bible, as a record of the revelation of God, culminating in the incarnation, is a key source for prayer. Meditative prayer uses the Bible, yes, but not as a text book, or a dictionary, or collection of inspiring stories. Meditative prayer focuses on personalising and internalising a passage of Scripture as a way to God.

A very simple way (one of many) to meditate prayerfully on Scripture is through the use of our focused imagination. We meditate on the passage in question. We reflect on the passage, on the story or situation or thoughts described. We imaginatively put ourselves in the picture, think ourselves into the situation, into the story. What do we see? What can we hear? What might we be thinking and feeling as the situation we have put ourselves into unfolds around us? What are our reactions to the passage and what it contains? As we do this, we will begin to learn things about ourselves – our hopes, fears, desires, needs – that maybe we weren’t fully aware of, or that we had been denying, ignoring. But most importantly we will encounter God in the story. What is he saying to us? How does this passage reveal who God is and what he is like? What truth is therein contained that he wants us to grasp? What is he revealing about himself?

Questions to Consider
What role does Scripture play in your prayer life? How does it grow your relationship with God? How does scripture (trans)form you as a person?

Prayer
Almighty Father, take me deeper into your word, so that I may be taken deeper into you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – God at the Centre

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 119:9-16

Remember, in Meditative Prayer God is always addressing our will. Christ confronts us and asks us to choose. Having heard his voice, we are to obey his word. It is this ethical call to repentance, to change, to obedience that most clearly distinguishes Christian meditation from its Eastern and secular counterparts. In Meditative Prayer there is no loss of identity, no merging with the cosmic consciousness, no fanciful astral travel. Rather, we are called to life-transforming obedience because we have encountered the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Christ is truly present among us to heal us, to forgive us, to change us, to empower us.

There is a technical word for what I have been describing, and it might be helpful for you to know it – lectio divina, (divine reading). This is a kind of reading in which the mind descends into the heart, and both are drawn into the love and goodness of God. Henri Nouwen once pointed to a lovely picture hanging in his apartment, and said to me, “That is lectio divina.” It depicted a woman with an open bible in her lap, but her eyes were lifted upward. Do you get the idea? We are doing more than reading words; we are seeking “the Word exposed in the words”, to use the phrase of Karl Barth. We are listening with the heart to the Holy within. This prayerful reading, as we might call it, edifies us and strengthens us.

-Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, pp.157-8

Questions to Consider
How do you experience God in Scripture and in prayer? How have these experiences evolved over time? How have you changed as a result?

Prayer
Loving Father, change me through prayer. Deepen my relationship with you through the time I spend in prayer. Expand my heart and mind, and make them more like yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)