The Practice of Prayer: Keep it simple.

With Lent around the corner, I wanted to share an experience of mine that has continued to impact my spiritual walk. It’s the simple practice of prayer.

When I was in seminary, for my last semester, my professor asked us to adopt a spiritual discipline. I wasn’t sure which one I should try so I turned to the book, The Sacred Way by Tony Jones. Nothing really stood out to me but since it was a spring semester, I knew Easter was coming up and figured I could incorporate Lent into my practice.

In years past, it had always been apparent to me that I should give up this or that; but for some reason, I couldn’t pin anything down. I knew that in order to take this seriously, I needed to “pray about it.” So for a few days, I put a post-it note on my desk to remind me to pray every day for a spiritual discipline to develop. After a few days, I still had not felt any specific “call” to add or subtract something from my life. However, I remember realizing how nice it was to have the post-it note in front of me, reminding me every day, to pray. I decided to keep thinking about it and continue praying every day.

About a week later, a co-worker, who was known to cause trouble, started to stir up the usual drama. I was at my wits end and cried out to God to take away this “thorn in my side.” After sitting in my office reflecting on what just happened, I noticed the little post-it note that reminds me to pray every day about my spiritual discipline. I decided from then on that I needed to pray every day about this person. So I set an alarm on my phone at 9 a.m. to go off every morning and remind me to pray for him. This was the most convenient time because I had work, class and church every week at 10 a.m. which gave me an hour to center myself and ask God to intervene before going on with my day. After a week of this, I was already starting to feel better. It occurred to me that I had begun the “spiritual discipline” of prayer. I didn’t even think about adding prayer to my day because I had taken it for granted since entering seminary.

In years before coming to Emmanuel, I always began and ended my day in prayer. However, once I entered school and no longer had a normal 8-to-5 work schedule, I let go of this practice and started to pray haphazardly. It was definitely something that I missed because every New Year’s, I have made the resolution to have “Daily Quiet Time” with God.

I would buy myself a new devotional or journal and carve out a 7 a.m. time slot to wake up, read the devotional and pray like I used to. But this practice has never seemed to stick. Does this sound familiar? With 8 a.m. obligations, I tended to sleep to the last possible moment and then get up and go to work or class.

Prayer had been the last thing on my mind and literally, the last part of my day. I would normally pray at night before going to bed and by then, I was too tired to really express to God how I feel. My prayers were normally just begging or asking for things. It was very discouraging to look at my nook with all of my journals and devotionals gathering dust.

So when presented with a “clean slate” for my class, I wanted to keep it simple. Being Type A, it is very easy for me to set too many guidelines to follow and the discipline loses its worth or reason. I wasn’t going to follow a book. I didn’t want to buy a journal. I was going to simply wake up to the alarm at 9 a.m. and pray. I didn’t expect myself to roll out of bed and sit by the window. I didn’t rearrange my nook or buy new candles. I just told myself to “stay in bed, pray, wake up and center yourself.” And it surprisingly worked out great.

I chose to go along with one technique I learned in undergrad – the ACTS prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.  The hardest part for me was the Adoration section. I felt like my adoration of God wasn’t sufficient enough. I could only describe God in so many words. Awesome. Sovereign. Magnificent. But I started to feel superficial. I found help in the Psalms and how the writer chose to identify God, as a fortress, my rock, my redeemer. This was very helpful when praying in times of trouble. And also, in times of happiness, I could reflect on God’s love for me.

Confession has come easily to me. I am definitely my toughest critic so every day I can think of a million different ways that I messed up. There have also been times when I’m in a conversation and I think to myself, “I shouldn’t have said that. God I’m sorry.” This has helped me a lot in dealing with my conscience and the fact that I have a problem with gossip and complaining. Having to confess to God daily about my actions has caused me to reflect on how I portray myself and what I’m adding to my life. Through confession, I am learning to humility.

Thanking God is also easy for me. I used to keep a gratitude journal which I had considered restarting but I wanted to stay true to my “simple” discipline of prayer so I’ve only thanked God orally. It has been a blessing though to reflect on the day and thank God for the things that happened.

The final stage of the ACTS prayer is supplication and I don’t think anyone finds this part difficult. I like that it is at the end of the prayer because oftentimes, it was my only focus. And at times, it still is my focus today. On the days when I’m having to pray “on-the-go” I find myself just asking God for things and neglecting the first three parts. I will quickly thank God and say, “Please, please, please.” It is still a struggle for me but I’m learning to not focus on the asking the part as much.

The benefit of keeping the spiritual discipline of prayer using the ACTS prayer is that it has reopened my eyes to communication with God in a more intimate manner. With the various stages of the ACTS prayer, I converse with God on a deeper level than just praying before I fall asleep. Also, it has helped me to grow in ways that I had not considered. Being a Mom now, scripture is comforting to begin my day by adoring God and asking for grace in the little lifes he’s entrusted me with. Also, I have realized where I struggle the most and where I can use the most help. Confession has really opened my eyes to the sin that I struggle with daily. I know that I am nowhere near perfect and that I have a long way to go before I am an avid prayer, but I like to think that I’m on the journey.

Overall, the act of praying every day has really paid off. While it started off as praying for my enemy, I have turned this practice into a way to heal and grow in the Lord. Through this I have consistently seen where God has answered my prayers and it has also given me motivation to give God the glory and tell people how much prayer really works!

I would love to hear your walk in prayer. Do you observe Lent? What other spiritual disciplines do you recommend?

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