Thursday, January 27, 2011
While teaching at a Bible school in Far East Russia, I was giving a lesson on personal prayer and worship. I wanted to find things in the local culture that I could use in my sermons while I was there and I used the name of a fast food place in town called "Magic Burger". I shared that devotions can be compared to a magic burger, like the hamburger buns being praise and the meat was prayer. We can start and finish our time with God with praise and worship and have our prayers in the middle. Although this may be a nice method, sometimes methods can get us into a religious rut. In the early 1980's, there were some great teachings about prayer circulating around the evangelical world based on the "Lords Prayer" found in Matthew six. This is where I got the idea for the Magic Burger, or a Prayer Sandwich, because it begins and ends with praises. I like the story about when Joyce Meyer tried to apply that teaching of praying for an hour and how miserable she was trying to be like Pastor Larry Lea! The bast thing to do is have God meet you where you are at. Maybe you don't have the gift of praying in unknown tongues or the closeness to talk with God as a friend. Come to the Lord where you are, with the little or much faith you have and see what happens!
A smoothie is a healthy beverage made in a blender of a bunch of different things. There are on the other hand, smoothies that are commercially sold that are mostly crushed ice and sugar. I have made some nasty tasting smoothies and some amazing ones over the years. One time I got some old pure bulk soybean powder and I could not drink it. I have also dropped whole hard boiled eggs for protein and crushed vitamins and even got used to the taste. I have tried expensive green green stuff in smoothies and have made some that were just a glorified chocolate shake. Whatever your experience with smoothies are, we can all agree that it is about creating a whole thing from many things. A time of prayer can be a lot of different things mixed together. This will make your prayer time, you. Not someone else's brand of prayer. It may also keep you from getting bored!
Ephesians 6:18 (King James Version)
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
The NIV version says, "all kinds of prayers". How many kinds of prayer are there? More than I can cover in this writing! There is intercession, which prayer for others and there are prayers of thanksgiving. There are prayers of desperation, cries of help and there are times of "joy in the Holy Ghost". An interesting study is about the prayer of supplication. I have heard many different opinions of what supplication in prayer means, especially from a New Testament perspective. I personally like to think of this kind of prayer as seeking God diligently for something specific, like something big. But I think this kind of prayer needs to have some of the gifts of the Spirit in operation. I was recently reading in Acts 12 about the early church praying for Saint Peter while he was in prison. This may be a good example of this kind of prayer.
When it comes to our prayer time, we can enjoy so many different things with God. I believe that one of the deepest ways to pray, or as some have noted to simply "do business with the Lord", is to operate in the gifts in the Spirit. Faith, passion and sincerity are important things to have when we come to the Throne of Grace, however, God gave us tools that we can use to get our prayers answered and to have deeper experiences with heaven touching the earth. There are a handful of lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament, and one of them is commonly called "faith". But don't all Christians have faith? How then can it be a gift? I have heard the "gift" of faith referred to as "special faith", which makes me think of a revelatory kind of spiritual insight, is when a believer suddenly gets a strong unexplainable conviction that God is going to do something. I think the gift of special faith is similar to the gift of the discernment of spirits where the Christian actually plugs into the Realm of the Spirit and sees into another dimension. This may sound like some kind of mystical New Age teaching, but prayer should be accessing heaven. If one is in a heavenly realm, then the mystical should happen. If the experience glorifies Christ and not self, you can bet that you have a real Bible experience.
"Soaking" has become a popular word in a lot of church circles these days. It has to do with soaking in God's presence, like resting in a warm cozy river flowing from heaven. Sometimes prayer can be so good that you get on a revelation of God's love, greatness or mercy and you simply can't say another word. This is a great time to soak. This can also be a good time to listen. Being quiet can also be a form of meditation. Christian meditation, especially from a Protestant perspective, seems to have scripture involved. Taking a few verses and "chewing" on them in your mind is a great way to be quiet without having your mind wander. There is also something called "mental prayer" that I hope my Catholic sisters and brothers fill me in on.
Prayer can be a great time to focus on Christ and yet for many, including myself, it can be hard to keep focused. Sometimes we need to turn the ringer off on our phones, get away from our e-mail and put the world aside for a while. One of the things that works for me is to put on worship music in the background. If I run out of things to say in prayer, I can sing along like in a worship service. It also sets a great meditative atmosphere, especially if it is simple and gentle music. I have a play list of "soaking music" that is about nine hours of songs like this. I also have a few more play lists of more congregational worship, and faster praise music. Another thing that helps my focus is to have a "to do" list handy. This may sound like a distraction but I believe it can prevent distractions that come to your mind. It seems like the moment my knees hit the floor is when I am reminded that I need to pay my phone bill that is due today or call someone about changing plans later on that evening. I am the type of person that I try to do things right away or I may forget. I admit that I have gotten into prayer and then after a few moments finding myself doing little things that I need to do. I feel like I am being "responsible", but I may be missing out on a big spiritual blessing! Another reason why to have a to do list handy is because you may be inspired in prayer to do something. Remember that part of prayer can be listening, and humans are so often forgetful. This is why having a journal, or more specifically a prayer journal close by can be a great way to remember and document what goes on in these special times. This is also a good way to write down Bible passages that spoke to your heart while in prayer. You may be reminded by the Spirit of a significant dream that you need to write down or simply remember the name of a person. For example, while in prayer you keep thinking of an old friend you knew in church that you lost contact with. This probably means that you need to pray for that person. Then in your to do list, you may want to write down that person's name to call them and let them know that you are thinking about them and praying for them. Also note that if you keep thinking about someone in prayer, it might be because you need to forgive that person, not necessarily contact them.
These are just a handful of ideas that a believer can try when it comes to time with God. A Devotional Smoothie is a prayer time that is all mixed up - but in a good way. There is the protein powder of praying with a Bible, the sweetness of thanksgiving, the fruit of the Spirit, a power energy shot of the working of the Spirit... We can have a method to our praying and even a list. We can also have written prayers if they are inspired and heartfelt. Then there are times when we get so lost in the Spirit that we leave our methods and begin to combine all kinds of prayer in to a divine devoted mixture. Sometimes its good to give up our agenda and just abandon our form of Christianity to be transported to another world. I think this is what Saint Teresa of Avila experienced as "states of rapture" and what the early church experienced on the day of Pentecost. You will find so many amazing stories of the supernatural in Catholic and Protestant figures throughout history, and it makes me hungry to pray like they did. The thing is that I should not try to imitate the things they did, but to have the same heart and closeness to God that gave them these powerful experiences with God.