by Lindsey Funtik, Coordinator of Volunteer Ministries, Ashland First United Methodist Church, Ashland, Ohio.
Here we are again, just a bunch of imperfect people who want to know how to better connect to our Creator in a meaningful way. We have tried, with some success and some failure, but the ultimate goal is to keep showing up. As we have seen, one way of doing this is through the practice of daily quiet time.
Last week, we talked about one way (among many!) to engage with Scripture. Essentially, I outlined a simple way to ask questions of the text that can help the student of the Bible dive beneath the surface and begin to think about what the Word says and how it can be applied to one’s life. If you have utilized those questions, I pray that they have proven useful. I want to hear about it! I also pray that they continue to help you unlock more and more in your walk of discipleship with our holy book in hand.
Now we move to the subject of prayer, which walks hand in hand with study of Scripture. Volumes have been penned on this topic, but I find that trying to define prayer is a bit like trying to remember a dream: the more you think about it, the more elusive a solid and all-encompassing definition becomes. I love exploring prayer, so perhaps one day I will contribute a volume of my own, but for today’s purposes, we will go with the definition of prayer simply being communication with God. Now, let’s get practical.
There are myriad ways to practice prayer, and I am a huge proponent for exploring all of them. Though prayer is simply communication with God, the lines of that communication can be as varied as the people who are speaking and listening. Do what works for you and earnestly seek the Lord in your efforts.
Below are three different suggestions for prayer practices that have worked for me and for countless others. These are not original tools, they are simply scaffoldings I have found along the way that have helped me to build up my prayer life into something that impacts me profoundly.
This one is a classic for a reason, and it is my go-to suggestion for those working on teasing out their practice of prayer. A.C.T.S. stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Basically, you start by telling God why you think He’s awesome, move to airing out the ways in which you have messed up, thank Him for whatever bubbles to the surface, and then move onto asking Him for what you need. I like this model for a few reasons. First, it is a great way to organize one’s thoughts. There have been so many times when my brain felt jumbled that I have been able to turn to A.C.T.S for assistance. Second, it makes sure that our prayers do not fall into being “one note”; many prayerful elements are included. “Can I have this?” or “I’ve failed” or “This day has been a mess” is coupled with other things that make the experience of prayer fuller and, I dare say, more healthy. This practice is great for veterans and newbies alike. An example, based on my heart today:
A: God, I love the way that you designed the world to move in seasons. Your Creation teaches us both endurance and hope.
C: I have procrastinated and not been a consistently good steward of my time. I confess, as well, that I too often blur the healthy lines between work and rest.
T: Lord, thank you for a job in which I can learn and grow and be both stretched and celebrated.
S: I ask for the energy to finish this week strong and to go into the weekend feeling settled and at rest.
2. Fixed-Hour Prayer
One of the beauties of the Christian faith is that we are not alone and need not practice our devotions in a vacuum. Though quiet time might be the discipline of getting alone with God, there are still ways to ground ourselves in tradition and within the larger community of believers worldwide. There is a set rhythm of prayers, called the daily offices, during which faith communities, from monasteries to churches and beyond, lift up prayers that are aligned with Scripture, history, and the liturgical calendar. These prayers are often written and prescribed and are always called for at specific hours throughout the day. This type of prayer is relatively new to me, but I have fallen in love with it because, not only does it help me to stay in a routine of structured prayer, it also reminds me that there are people all over the globe who are praying with me. By praying the daily offices, we can begin to understand that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves while being led into reflection through the use of written word. By way of example, here is the final prayer in the liturgy John and I pray every night before bed. It comes from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, which is a series that is more than worth your time and money:
“Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: a Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”
3. Imaginative Prayer
This last prayer practice, though the least concrete, is probably my favorite. Imaginative prayer is exactly what it sounds like–opening up your imagination for communing with Jesus. Again, there are many different ways to approach this (it is really powerful to have a spiritual director guide you through imaginative meditation, especially those trained by Healing Care Ministries), but today’s focus is on simply sitting down for quiet time–don’t forget the coffee–and asking the Holy Spirit to open up and sanctify your imagination. Then sit there, eyes closed, and allow whatever images She brings along to enter into your mind. The images I have encountered in this type of prayer have been powerful and have served to illustrate my own spiritual experience, but this can also be used to pray imaginatively over others.
For example, every week I pray in our sanctuary and invite others to join me in a space of respite. I always try to pray over the room itself and this week, while asking the Holy Spirit to come and dwell, I was given the image of soft snow gently falling. This was a picture of the Spirit descending with kindness and cool, crisp, reinvigoration for our faith family. So, armed with that in my mind’s eye, I prayed snow over our space. I prayed that the Lord would arrive and collect in drifts so that we might be awed by Him, play in His care, and carry the Presence on our boots to a parched world. Let it snow! (Ironically enough, our area accumulated a lot of actual snow yesterday too. I’m sorry if I had anything to do with that!)
It might sound strange, but don’t be intimidated! This is to simply open us up to the Spirit’s movements in a new way. If you are willing, the pictures will come.
Once again, I challenge you to give one of these a try. You might be brand new or a seasoned prayer, but we can always go deeper with the Lord. God invites us in. How amazing that the Divine wants us near, wants to speak, wants to listen! Pour that coffee, fling back the doors of your heart, and see what wonders take place.
Tune in next week for more!
Cross-posted from "Reflections on Faith, Words, and The Holiness of Today"