What I have learned after a month of embracing prayer
About a month into this year of embracing spiritual disciplines, I suddenly thought - why did I commit to a year? That was really, really enthusiastic! But like all things, as I have surrendered to the commitment, I have got into the swing of it and I actually love having a focus for my month with God and for the blog. So at the end of the third month, focusing on prayer, what have I learned?
1) Prayer is one of those spiritual disciplines I had already embraced in some form, but which I have really enjoyed digging deeper into this month. It has been interesting and comforting to read about different people’s experiences with God - a bit like hearing someone else’s perspective on someone you know well or on marriage - it encourages you in your own relationship!
2) Liturgy and set prayers help me to pray. This is something I was already beginning to realize for a while but I have used this month to really embrace certain set prayers. I am conscious of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:7:
"When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again."
Growing up with liturgy at school I never really connected with it - it felt like empty words - but reading it on my own, at my own pace, with the ability to start and stop and use the words as a springboard to my own prayers has given them a new lease of life. That doesn’t mean I think that liturgy in a church setting is pointless - I think there is something powerful about declaring scriptures and praying together, but I have personally found more life and comfort in speaking words (prayers and scriptures) written by others and applying them to my own relationship with God in private. I wonder if it is a bit like public worship - it is difficult until you learn to get used to it in private first - I'm sure I would now enjoy liturgy much more in a public setting now I have embraced it in private.
3) Other people's written prayers help me to pray. This month I have used contemporary prayer books to guide me in praying daily for my kids, for my husband and for myself. I am noticing a difference in my attitude towards my kids and Mark and myself as a result - I am more (notice the word 'more'!) patient with us because I am trusting more that God is working on us in His perfect timing and already noticing where He is answering my prayers! Not that God wasn’t working on us all already, but now I am committing to prayer about it, I am noticing it more.
4) I have a small space of about 10 minutes whilst the lunch is cooking before it is served most days which is great for taking a moment with God in prayer and meditation. Creating a formal space in the middle of the day is life-giving and stops anxieties running away with themselves throughout the day!
5) The more I have spent time with God in prayer and the more I have become familiar with Him (in a good way), the more I have been overwhelmed by His gentleness and beauty. I think that when I used to pray irregularly I brought so much guilt and awkwardness to our relationship which, although wasn’t necessary, was there none the less. We have just bought the house next door for our church, but it is so close that Mark and I are both regularly around home at different parts of the day and generally have regular times to connect and catch up. We don’t spend a huge amount of our day physically doing ministry together but we are both aware of what is going on because we take time to process most things together at different moments during the day, like over lunch. We are therefore both involved even when we are not both physically present at a particular activity. As I have spent more time with God in prayer throughout the day I have noticed where His thoughts and prompting have become more present regarding the different activities and conversations too.
6) Having spent three months now embracing different spiritual disciplines I am also learning that it is about small, simple steps that make a huge difference and responding to invitations from God. Small steps can be integrated more fully into a life as a whole - and although ‘small’ they add up to be big. Science has shown that spending 1 hour learning your times tables for example is not as effective as taking 10 minutes for 6 days. That is because each day you spend doing something strengthens the connections in your brain and it becomes habit you can then build on. It is a bit like trying to build a brick wall too high in one go - it won’t be as strong as laying a section and letting it dry and then building on that. For me, those small steps that I have embraced this month are: adding in a short pray time before lunch, having prayer books as part of my morning quiet time, being consistent with journalling prayers.
So as November closes, I want to encourage you to keep taking small, faithful steps in prayer. Don’t be discouraged by thinking you need to suddenly pray for an hour a day etc, but instead start building a faithful prayer relationship with God bit by bit. As often as you can and as intentionally (pro-active) and as organically (responding to the Holy Spirit's invitations) as you can. But keep it simple. Jesus never wanted our prayer lives to be complicated - just consistent. May we be willing to embrace our relationship with God step by step.
Thank you for joining me here at ‘busy lives need quiet corners’. I hope you have enjoyed this month’s articles on prayer. Thank you to those of you who wrote and encouraged me - I really appreciate hearing from you! Want to see if you missed one of the prayer articles? Check out the link here.
For December we are going to be looking at the spiritual discipline of ‘celebration’. December can be such a busy month, so it will be about small, simple steps we can take in our lives to celebrate, why it is so important and perhaps also be an opportunity to celebrate some of the things that God has done this year (I am sitting on some incredible testimonies from this year that I want to share at some point!). If you aren’t already a subscriber to this blog you may like to join the mailing list. As well as receiving new posts straight to your inbox, you will also receive a free personal printable to help you plan in quiet moments with God this week.