Alan Creech had a great post the other day about prayer. Here was my favorite part:
“Another thing is that prayer is not just some isolated “thing” we do here and there: pray to ask for help or for things; pray to get forgiveness; pray so that we don’t have a car accident; stop and pray so that your sister won’t go to hell, etc., etc. Prayer is more than that. It may include things like that from time to time, sure, but it’s not just that. It is the opening of ourselves to God. This is why we are told to pray without ceasing. There are many different ways to pray. This should be obvious. So somehow, always, wherever we are or whatever we’re doing, we can be “at prayer” in some way, even if it’s just saying to ourselves that we are open to God, we are listening. Our mind can chew on things – we can meditate even without candles and music and silence. Sure, there are particular ways to pray and we should be doing those things, praying in those ways. But we need to come to realize that prayer is sort of a way of being, a constant attitude, both inward and outward. And as we open ourselves, God is there to “come in” and do the work that only He can do.”
This is not a view of prayer that I was taught growing-up. How does something like this fit into all our acronyms of what prayer is supposed to be? (ACTS- Adoration, Confess, Thanksgiving, Supplication, etc…) However, over the past few years I’ve discovered that this is the type of prayer that I comes most naturally to me. The kind where there really aren’t any words, no dialogue. Intentionally opening my heart to the Spirit of God and breaking the monotony of living my life on autopilot is what grows me. I think that’s what is meant by “walking in the Spirit.”
I live most of my life with a heart that is functionally closed to experiencing God and listening to Him speak. I go about my day, I have conversations, I read, I think…. but usually it has to be a very intentional thing for me to stop and say, “wow, I haven’t opened my heart to allow God into my experience.” I go about my business and I’m paying no attention to whether my heart is receptive to Him. I’m not listening. I might as well be doing all this by myself.
I think there is a sense in which God “comes in” when we turn-off the autopilot and open our hearts… but probably more than a picture of Him coming-in is the reality that He is already IN. If we are believers, His Spirit has become one with our soul. And the Spirit in us is always doing something…growing us, changing us, calling “Abba, Father!” on our behalf.
But I’m not very attentive to the Spirit in me. My Christian tradition has not been very responsible with teaching me how to pay attention to what is going-on in my soul. Sure, I guess I’m supposed to do that in my “quiet time,” but what about every other part of my life? What about during an actual worship service, when is there ever a moment of quiet space to give opportunity to pay attention to what’s going-on in our hearts and what God might be doing in us? Amid fast-paced worship music and “prayer request” times, I think Evangelicals have lost touch with how to be attentive to the Spirit and our own souls. There is only one place that has consistently encouraged me to see prayer as an opening of the heart to God…to live and breathe in that space….that worship and prayer is about creating a space to pay attention to the life of the Spirit in my soul and to be open toward what He’s doing in me. I think this is why I’m so attracted to more liturgical styles of worship, because those people get it. Prayer is more than a dialogue with God. (do you think when Paul said he was “praying without ceasing” that he meant he was constantly talking all the time with God in dialogue format?) Prayer is more than asking for things. Prayer is even more than telling God how great He is. As Alan Creech said, all those things are definitely a part of prayer. But I think we tend to make them the whole….and we forget that before you can even do any of those things authentically, it must begin with our soul turning-off the autopilot to invite Him in and finding a way to live every bit of our lives in a constant state of openness and listening.