Henri Nouwen observed how we often approach prayer as a purely mental exercise, formulating thoughts and emotions into words that we speak, aloud or silently, to God. The very process has all of the look and feel of a monologue and, if we succumb to that notion, we end up with a sense that we are “talking into the dark,” explained Nouwen, wasting time talking to ourselves when we could spend our time much more productively, doing the practical things that demand our attention.
Nouwen continued with a second observation: sometimes we are disheartened with prayer because we have mainly viewed it as a mental activity of “thinking about God.” Labeling this activity “meditation,” it doesn’t make it any easier. It still looks like work to people who are not reflective by nature, or those who are mentally fatigued, driven to distraction by the constant bombardment of life. When prayer starts feeling like a heavy homework assignment, we tend to avoid it. This is not to say that our intellect is to be parked outside the prayer room. God has given us the gift of our rational faculties and they are very important in our Christian lives. But we are missing the healthy balance taught by our ancient mothers and fathers in faith. They knew that “active prayer,” with its emphasis on the use of our cognitive capacity to express our deepest thoughts into well-chosen words, needs the balance of more “receptive” ways of deepening our faith that God is near.
In receptive prayer the agenda is God’s and we are ready to receive whatever He offers. We “delight” in Him (Ps. 37:4, NIV), enjoying everything that expresses Him. We may immerse ourselves in a gospel story, captivated by Jesus’ love; stand in rapt silence by the crib of a newborn, amazed at the miracle of this precious life; listen to the thunder of a cascading waterfall, enthralled by the magnificence of God’s creation; or simply look back over an ordinary day, remembering so many occasions of unexpected grace. Moments like these are crucial for replenishing our faith. They furnish fresh reasons for casting ourselves unreservedly on God’s mercy, living by His promises, and depending on Him for our daily strength.
Heavenly Father, I rejoice in Your grace-filled promises and give thanks for Your unfailing love! You place miracles large and small into my path on a regular basis, and I acknowledge that You are the God of the miraculous! My delight is in You, and I will praise You all the days of my life. Continue to fill me with greater faith and remind me of Your nearness moment by moment. Give me strength to defeat the darkness, and the courage to walk alongside of Your agenda rather than my own.
–Adapted from Giving Ourselves to Prayer: An Acts 6:4 Primer for Ministry (Chapter 33, Contemplative Prayer by Reg Johnson). This book is available at prayershop.org. Use the code CONPSP3 at checkout to receive an additional 10% discount.
Praise God that even though you were once an enemy of God, he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death (Col. 1:21-22). Give thanks that you are now alive with Christ, without blemish and free from accusation (Col. 2:13). Confess your failure to live up to that holiness, praying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Lk. 18:13). Commit yourself to rejoicing when you are called to share in the suffering of Christ (1 Pet. 4:13-14). Ask God to help you see the victory you are given in Jesus as you trust the Holy Spirit to guide you in being his image-bearer (1 Cor. 15:57).
All churches experience the pain of divorce, broken homes, and death. Pray that those who have overcome such difficult experiences as these may effectively reach out to others in similar situations.
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