The Columns – February 2016

Prayer

Someone recently shared a few questions with me concerning prayer. People who are growing and developing a personal prayer life are the ones who usually have the most (and best!) questions but are sometimes embarrassed to ask them. I love having an opportunity to address questions such as these because they allow me to stop and take stock of my own prayer habits and address topics that I take for granted or may have never asked myself before!

Is prayer just talking/thinking to yourself?
Prayer is a conversation with God. It is the communication that takes place between God and oneself within the relationship we have with Him. We look to him for responses, answers, guidance and direction for our lives. Prayer is not about self-help, but rather going to the greatest power in the universe for His help. The process of praying often helps us to organize our thoughts better and to recognize areas of concerns within ourselves that might otherwise go un-confronted. Hearing our own words spoken aloud or simply formed into silent thoughts doesn’t mean we are speaking to ourselves. It means we have faith in the unseen, almighty, ever-present, all-knowing God. There would be no reason to cry out for help if we didn’t believe in the most miniscule possibility of the existence of a God who cares.

Is prayer just getting in a quiet place and meditating?
Prayer can definitely be about getting to a quiet place before God. Prayer has as much to do with listening for God’s voice as it has to do with talking to God. I would use the word “focusing” on God rather than meditating in this instance. Getting into a quiet place before God can be enhanced by calling Him by name. Sometimes reading a brief devotional can help us to center our attention on Him. Reading a passage of scripture can help us to experience His presence and his peace. I often ask for the Holy Spirit to reveal His presence to me and to sit with me in prayer. Each member of the Holy Trinity is a person. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are three individuals who collectively function as one living and loving God. I have asked for Jesus to pray with me at times. God is my best friend. I invite Him to spend time with me just as I might invite a close human friend to sit and hold my hand in silence. This stage of prayer is such an intimate experience…a deeply personal one. It involves putting my entire life aside for a time to simply focus on sharing love with my Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Sometimes we hear this termed “practicing the presence of God.”

How is this kind of prayer any different from meditating? If it’s not different, then how come saying the word “meditation” is so taboo?
I am careful to designate a difference in the word “meditation” because it has different meanings in various religions. There are Eastern religious practices that use meditation as a means of aspiring to become a god, rather than to worship the Christian God. Eastern meditation sometimes tries to achieve an “emptying” of the mind of all thought, whereas Christian forms of what is termed “centering prayer” seek to fill the mind with the presence of God. We meditate on scripture when practicing the art of lectio divina. This is a practice in which we concentrate on the Word of God in such a way as to achieve a higher understanding of God and to internalize the scripture so that we can live it out with deeper meaning in our lives. The word “meditation” is not taboo, but rather the goal of meditation can have very different meanings in different types of religion.

Why is it a rule to close your eyes during a prayer? Do you close your eyes to stay focused or just so it’s not awkward for the other people praying in the group?
I love this question! My initial response is, there are no rules in prayer! We as Christians develop methods and styles of praying that are as individual as our relationships to God. I do frequently close my eyes in prayer. I think I learned this as a child. It does help us sometimes to keep our mind from wandering and to prevent those things in our field of vision from being a distraction while we are concentrating on God. Closing my eyes doesn’t always prevent me from becoming distracted, though! When I am praying alone in my personal prayer time, I don’t usually close my eyes. In fact, sometimes my prayers are being recorded in my journal rather than silently or verbally spoken. Even in small groups, having my eyes open during prayer allows the visual things around me (particularly individuals who need prayer) to be inspiration for my requests. If I see someone in pain, in tears of grief, standing alone, or in a moment of happiness, these visuals prompt me to know how to pray for others. I have the opportunity to pray publicly in the church services on occasion. I find that it makes me less nervous and does help me to focus my thoughts on the Lord if I close my eyes much of the time. It also keeps me from squinting with the bright spot lights in my eyes! Closing my eyes in prayer is also a subtle form of practicing humility before God. In similar ways, bowing of one’s head, kneeling, raising of the arms and looking up—all of these are what we term “posturing” in prayer. For Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, he chose the posture of lying prostrate, face down on the ground, to pray to his Father in Heaven. The only rule I advocate for prayer is that we do it! And I recommend doing it in whatever way ushers you into the Lord’s presence, keeps you humble, and allows truth and grace to bless your conversation.

TOP TEN PRAYER REQUESTS FOR FEBRUARY
1. Relief and restoration for storm victims
2. Healing from addictions
3. Confusion of ISIS and change of heart in Islamic world to believe and accept Jesus
4. Peace, unity, reconciliation for broken families
5. The cure for cancer
6. For those who are grieving the loss of loved ones
7. Healing from heart illnesses
8. For healthy, life-giving, loving relationships and friendships
9. For revival and spiritual awakening in America
10. For patience and perseverance

WAYS TO LEAD THROUGH PRAYER
• Pray-at-Home
• Small group prayer
• Prayer Room
• Hedge Ministry
• Prayer Shawls
• National Day of Prayer
• Grits and Grace Prayer Breakfast
• Pray for the Cure

DEANA MITCHELL • Director of Women’s & Prayer Ministries • dmitchell@fumcshreveport.orgfirstshreveport.org/prayerfacebook.com/prayerfirstshreveport

UPCOMING EVENTS
Pray for the Cure • February 28, 2016 • Couch Chapel open from 9:30AM to 11:00AM

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