Prayer is not just spending time with God. It is partly that—but if it ends there, it is fruitless. No, prayer is dynamic. Authentic prayer changes us, unmasks us, strips us, indicates where growth is needed. Authentic prayer never leads to complacency, but needles us, makes us uneasy at times. It leads us to true self-knowledge, to true humility. ~St Teresa of Avila.
I learned to bake in Home Economics class in seventh grade and have loved baking ever since.
Recipes direct the steps of baking; having the right ingredients, measuring accurately and following the directions almost always results in a successful baked good.I was reminded of baking at a recent session at church where the presenter gave us these guidelines for prayer:
Step 1. Listen to the Scripture passage being read aloud.
Step 2. Spend one minute in silence thinking about the scripture passage.
Step 3. Listen to the scripture passage being read again.
Step 4. Write down a question about the Scripture passage.
Step 5. Spend one minute in silence thinking about the question.
It sounded like a recipe for prayer. But, unlike baking, where the goal is a finished product, I think of prayer as a conversation between God and me—with less focus on the outcome.
Scripture and silence are important “ingredients” of prayer, but conversations tend to be less structured and can zig and zag in unexpected ways.
In prayer, I need to think less and be more aware of feelings, intuitions and images. I need to be open to God’s participation in the conversation.
Prayer is interactive and dynamic; it is more focused on God and God’s words than me and my words. For me, prayer is less concerned with setting a timer and more concerned with tuning in and paying attention.Prayer is about being open to God, speaking honestly and listening attentively.
In another workshop, many years ago, I was taught these basic principles about prayer:
- In the realm of the Spirit, God does it; we don’t.
- God meets us just where we are.
- Prayer and the spiritual life are not work.
- Trust is the key that opens the door to let in God’s Spirit.
We need to trust God and trust our inner experience.
5. Our part is to respond to God’s initiative.
The Lenten Little Black Book offers these “Tips about prayer:”
- Don’t be afraid to “pray your feelings.” Let go of how you think you should feel and share with God your true feelings—anger, sadness, etc. God can handle it.
- It’s often hard to get started. You have to make time and shift gears for prayer, and that requires some extra push and discipline.
- Regular prayer can help a lot. As with most activities, setting a regular time—the same time every day—helps establish the habit.
God is waiting to have a conversation with us; we only have to show up and be open to hear God’s voice.