Tell me if  this has ever happened to you.  You get out your Bible, your journal, and a cup of coffee, anticipating a deep and meaningful time with God.  You find your chosen place to read, quiet your mind, and begin.  The verses move past, but nothing earth-shattering jumps out.  You re-read what you just read.  Still nothing meaningful.

“OK God,” you think, “I’m finished reading now.  I’ve even read everything twice.  Time for you to speak to me… One, two, three go…” And still nothing.

This is where I am as I write this.  My Bible and journal are open beside my computer.  I’ve been at this for almost 30 minutes.  My journal page is empty, and I haven’t heard a word from God.  Is He mad at me?  Is this some kind of test?  Am I missing something?

Well, let’s go through the checklist.  Have I done something that would prevent me from hearing from God?  Not that I know of.  Have I rushed through my reading or praying?  Maybe, but I tried not to.  Is God making some kind of point?  I honestly don’t know the answer to that one.  All I know is I tried to listen and He didn’t say anything.

As I have gotten to know God better, I’ve learned that every day doesn’t bring a life-changing revelation.  Come to think about it, God has never seemed to be a conversationalist.  He speaks when He has something to say.  When He speaks, it’s important and memorable.  But sometimes, He doesn’t speak.

I can’t explain why God sometimes chooses not to speak.  But I know this: although God doesn’t speak to me every day, He hears me every day.  I might not have heard something definitive from Him, but He has heard everything I’ve said or thought, and there isn’t a single detail of my life or my circumstances that have escaped His attention.

If you’ve taken the time to read, pray, and listen to God but haven’t heard anything, don’t worry or don’t get discouraged.  He’s right there.  He see you, He hears you, and He’s on the job.  You haven’t wasted your time.

I Have Clothes In My Prayer Closet, Part 2

In Part 1, I confessed to the feeling that I don’t have it completely together when it comes to my prayer life.  In case you missed Part 1, you can catch up here.

In this post, I want to share some things about praying that have helped me, and some that haven’t.  Once again, a disclaimer: I’m no expert, and I hope by suggesting ideas that I don’t come across as one.  Also, this isn’t meant to be a prayer primer or instruction manual.  I’m simply out to share my personal experiences.

I do my best to build into every day a private time of reading the Bible and praying.  My prayer time is early in the morning- a little after 6AM.  That’s about the only time it’s quiet around here.

Many people like to pray in the evening instead of the morning, and a good case can be made for either time.  I’ve adopted a morning schedule for a couple of reasons.  It fits my personality- I am a morning person, and a good cup of coffee (or three) goes well with my prayer time.  Also, I like to pray about my upcoming day.  My daily schedule is always on the agenda.  Morning praying allows me to ask God to guide my studying, be with me in counseling or meetings, and prepare me for the phone call or visit that I didn’t know was coming.

So it’s 6:15AM, I’m settled in, and I’m ready to go.  What happens next?

I begin with devotional reading from some source, then read a couple of chapters from the Bible.  Reading before praying has helped me a lot.  It focuses my thinking, and quite often the Holy Spirit points out something from the text that I need to pray about.

Then I pray.  I’ve tried many different frameworks or templates for praying, and those things just don’t click with me.  In my youth, I was taught to pray using the ACTS acrostic (A for Adoration, C for Confession, T for Thanksgiving, and S for Supplication).  Praying this way makes me feel like I have a checklist, and once I’ve touched on everything, I’ve done my duty.

Let me share with you two things I’ve learned that has helped my praying.  The first is what I call “praying empty.”  Praying empty is simply that- praying for anything that comes to mind.  If you think of it, pray for it.  If a person comes to mind, pray for them.  Stay at it until nothing else comes up, and then stop.  This is a way to get on top of the feeling that you’re not praying long enough.

“Praying empty” is simply that- praying for anything that comes to mind.  If you think of it, pray for it.

The second prayer principle that has helped me is learning how to listen when I pray.  I’ve learned to ask God questions when I’m praying.  I ask about how I should think and feel about the issues and events of my life.  I ask where I ought to be leading our church.  Things like that.  And then I listen closely.  And lo and behold, God talks back!  The fact that it’s taken me decades to discover this simple fact is a tribute to my prayer prowess.

The bottom line when it comes to prayer is this: there’s no secret formula, and there’s no streamlined process.  Prayer is hard.  It takes discipline.  It takes time.  But prayer is the door to a whole new dimension in your spiritual walk.

When and how do you like to pray?  What principle has helped you become a better pray-er?  Please share your experiences.

I Have Clothes In My Prayer Closet

I have a confession to make.  I don’t think I’m all that great in the prayer department.  If you and I took an unannounced look at what’s in my prayer closet, we’d probably find some clothes, shoes, a golf ball or two, and a TV remote- stuff that probably shouldn’t be there.

Prayer has always been a source of background guilt for me.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I spend time in prayer- a fair amount of time.  But on occasion, in the back of my mind, I question my methods.  Am I doing it right?  Do I pray often enough?  Long enough?

In the back of my mind, I question my methods.  Am I doing it right?  Do I pray often enough?  Long enough?

On one hand, prayer is a multilayered, complex, mystical exercise.  Yet on the other, it can be the simplest of words.  It can be sacred and liturgical, or laid back and conversational.  It can be formal or informal, quiet or loud, long or short.

And to make matters worse, there are volumes of writing and teaching about every detail you can think of.  There are prayer methods, prayer books, and devotionals.  We learn about prayer warriors who spend hours praying, and monks and nuns who spend their lives praying.  We’re taught that if we don’t end our prayers with the words “In Jesus’ Name,” then maybe that prayer didn’t count or wasn’t heard.

  • Let me offer you some practical, down to earth, very simplistic guidelines on prayer.  Before I do, there are a couple of things you need to know.  First, I’m no expert.  My words are from my experiences and not from academia.  And second, please don’t interpret my simplistic approach as a lack of appreciation for the importance and sacredness of prayer.  Believe me, I get it.

OK, so if you’re struggling like me in the area of prayer, then here are some ideas.

    • Do what feels natural.  Praying is nothing more than expressing yourself and listening to God, and because we are all different, how you express yourself might be different for me.  Every time I’ve tried to copy someone else’s method, I’ve struggled.  Lots of people write that getting up early in the morning to pray is preferable.  But if your mornings are full, or if you aren’t a morning person, then pray at another time.
    • Use your own words.  God doesn’t want to hear empty words said out of obligation.  The essence of prayer is communication and spiritual communion between two people who love each other.  Imagine your spouse or child sitting down beside you, reciting a speech by rote, then getting up and leaving!  You might not feel eloquent, and you might not know exactly what to say.  God understands all this, and it’s OK.
    • Listen as much as you talk.  Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who constantly talks?  That isn’t a conversation, it’s a soliloquy.  I’m learning that the most important words spoken during prayer aren’t my words, but God’s words.  If you can find a quiet place and start listening, you will hear God’s voice loud and clear.  And that’s a cool thing.

This is only the tip of the iceberg.  In Part II, I’ll talk about what to do if you want to sit down and have a conversation with God.

In the meantime, I would be interested in hearing what works and what doesn’t work for you.  What personal obstacles to prayer do you face?  If you could give someone a single piece of information about praying, what would it be?

God and Making Decisions

We’ve all been there before.  A job offer in another city comes along, but there are pros and cons.  We’ve fallen in love, and we wonder if this person is the one.  There’s an important decision to be made.  So we begin to pray and ask God to guide us toward the choice that is best for us and pleases Him.  But how does that work?  How can we tell which way He is leading us?  Allow me to offer some guidelines from my experiences of both getting it right and wrong.

The first step in sensing God’s leadership takes place within us.  If you truly want to hear from God and do what He wants you to do, then you must be willing to accept whatever God says.  In other words, either option must be equally OK.   So many people approach this process unwilling to hear anything except what they want to hear, and their prayers are prayed to obtain God’s stamp of approval on their desires.  If you’ve already made up your mind, then there’s little point in asking God to lead you.

“If you’ve already made up your mind, then there’s little point in asking God to lead you.”

Once you are willing to accept whatever God directs, you’re ready to begin asking and listening.  I like to be alone for this part of the process.  Get somewhere quiet and begin to lay out each option.  Make a list of the positive and negatives of each choice, carefully considering what life would look like if that were God’s choice for you.

Then begin to be quiet and listen.  What are you listening for?  You’re listening for peace.  An wise, elderly pastor gave me some advice I’ll never forget.  He said, “The way of God is the way of peace.”  If you lay out each option before God and don’t rush God’s answer, you will begin to feel a sense of peace in one direction or the other.  That will likely be God’s choice for you.  The other direction will give you sense of uneasiness and trepidation.

There are two dynamics in this process that will work against you.  The first is already having your mind made up before you begin.  The other is impatience.  Rarely have I prayed and received God’s answer before I said Amen.  Sometimes it’s taken a couple of days or more, and more than once the circumstance changed while I was waiting, and the answer became crystal clear.

Hearing God’s voice can be very difficult, and I don’t mean to imply that there is a simple formula that evokes a response from God whenever we desire one.  On the contrary, hearing from God happens strictly on His timetable and not ours.  But I also know that God delights in leading our lives and answering our prayers, and we approach Him with humility, no agenda, and patience, God will speak to us.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.  And if you have more to add to this process, I would invite your comments.