Many people experience prayer as a burden and not as a pleasure.
Even if it is agreed upon as important most people feel guilty about their failure to pray enough. Why does prayer rank so high on surveys of theoretical importance and so low on surveys of actual satisfaction? Why does prayer seem such a struggle?
We may feel as though we lack the words to pray. Could it be that our frame work of prayer needs to change?
Martin Laird in his book, “Into the Silent Land” shares this story to connect us to the freedom found in the contemplative life.
When pummeled by too many thoughts a long walk would cure me of the punch-drunk feeling of lifelessness. The normal route led along open fields, and not infrequently I would see a man walking his four Kerry blue terriers. These were amazing dogs. Bounding energy, elastic grace, and electric speed, they coursed and leapt through open fields. It was invigorating just to watch these muscular stretches of freedom race along. Three of the four dogs did this, I should say. The fourth stayed behind and, off to the side of its owner, ran in tight circles. I could never understand why it did this; it had all the room in the world to leap and bound. One day I was bold enough to ask the owner, “Why does your dog do that?Why does it run in little circles instead of running with the others?” He explained that before he acquired the dog, it had lived practically all its life in a cage and could only exercise by running in circles. For this dog, to run meant to run in tight circles. So instead of bounding through the open fields that surrounded it, it ran in circles.
You may feel like that describes your prayers. You are running in circles but not getting anywhere. Like the Terriers we’ve got all this space to bound in the open fields of prayer but we struggle to make space to talk to God.
Yet, maybe that’s our problem. We already talk too much.
Maybe what we may need more than anything else right now is to take a seat at God’s table to eat and listen.
Eat slowly. Listen carefully.
Have you ever thought that praying is listening?
Lectio Divina is an ancient spiritual practice of praying the scriptures. It is a sacred, slow, contemplative reading of God’s word.
With lectio divina we are allowing God to have the first word in our prayers before he hears from us.
With lectio divina praying is not list making (simply confining prayer to making requests), it’s listening.
Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Eugene Peterson describes what happens to us during this spiritual practice;
“We get the word into our muscles and bones, our oxygen-breathing lungs and blood pumping heart.”
In the words of Christ, “Man does not live on bread alone.”
With lectio divina we practice eating the bread of God. God’s word becomes a part of us and His will becomes ours.
Ruth Haley Barton says, “We have been schooled in an information reading process that establishes the reader as the master of the text.”
Yet with lectio divina we allow the text to master us. As we take the word into ourselves we find that we are being taken into God. Too often our Bible classes and devotional readings are designed for us to receive information. Instead, every time we “eat God’s book” we are desiring that he transform us more and more into the image of His son Jesus.
Our goal is to read for relationship, allowing God to connect the 18 inches between our head and our hearts.
The practice of lectio divina begins with silence, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Next, we read the selected text slowly and we notice a word or phrase that makes our heart flutter. We read the passage again, moving to reflect on how our lives are touched by this word or phrase, “What is in my life that needs to hear this?” Upon the reading the passage a third time we respond, “How does God want me to respond as I encounter Him?” Read the passage once more and rest in the Word of God. Wait on Him in full submission to His will. Finally, we resolve to live out the word in the company of others. We begin to live out the change in community that God has created in us through attending to Him and listening to Him.
Are you not connecting to God through prayer? You may need to change your diet. Try listening instead of listing. Instead of always talking start eating.
You may just find youself full and satisfied.