Hope For Those Wanting To Know “How To” Pray

Brief Instructions on a Prayer Rule

I sit on the veranda overlooking the Caribbean ocean fitfully sobbing. As a 16 year old kid, I’m alone confronting my own contemptuous selfishness, flush with shame. My parents are fully confident that God wants us serving Him in Jamaica. I’m far-removed from such certainty. But as I read “How to Pray” by R. A. Torrey, the rottenness of my rebellion, self-centeredness, and stubbornness overwhelms me. Thus the brokenhearted tears. I am a mess and don’t know the extent of it.

Now, 46 years later, as I look back at that crucially formative time, I see God’s handprint all over. Three realities introduced there mark me for life – solitude, repentance, and prayer. It’s too bad that I practically ignore those realities for most of my life. Now, thanks to the grace of God, I’m trying to make up for lost time (if that’s even possible). 

So here’s a question coming out of my own life experience. How is it that we can go through our entire Christian life and never learn how to competently communicate with God? I use the words “how to” on purpose because I believe that is our main problem. We know the Bible includes exhortations to pray. We’ve studied Jesus’ prayer for His disciples. We’ve heard dozens of sermons about prayer. We may have even read some books on the subject. We know that we should pray, need to pray, want to get answers to prayer, feel guilty when we don’t pray with or for others, and should “pray without ceasing.”

Yet, prayer remains a mystery without any kind of solving involved. Our hearts clamor to know God more deeply. Yet we are ignorant of the practice of prayer in that process. We know we’re “supposed to” pray but we struggle with “how to” pray. 

Part of the problem is that we’ve ignored a solid, time-tested “how to” of prayer the Church has practiced for centuries while inventing innovative, hit-or-miss methods of self-expression and individualistic credo. Prayer is no longer seen as abiding communion with God. Prayer is more like verbally rubbing the magic lamp so the genie-god will appear to give us what we wish for. 

The best “how to” for prayer that I’ve experienced over the last decade is a “rule of prayer.” A prayer rule, thoughtfully and wisely established, can transform your relationship with God and your own heart. Real communion with God is possible when you include components such as:

  • Morning liturgical prayers
  • Psalms
  • Scripture readings
  • Silence/stillness
  • Intercessory prayers 
  • Prayers throughout the day 
  • Evening prayers 

A prayer rule need not be lengthy or complicated. In fact, it must be simple and doable. Those knowledgable of a prayer rule all say the same. Begin small and let it grow over time, if at all. The important thing is consistency and true communion. 

15-20 minutes in the morning, prayers throughout the day, and 5-10 minutes in the evening = prayer rule. Most of us have 20-30 minutes every day to devote to prayer if our desire for God is great enough. 

In my next post, I’ll get more specific about what might be included in a rule of prayer.

In the meantime, ask God to help you establish a prayer rule for yourself and ask Him “how to” do it. 

Dr. K 

3 Components To A Resonate Prayer Life

How To Build A Good Rule of Prayer

The idea of a prayer rule is new to most people who read The UnCommon Journey. I’d say most of you have a time set apart each day to meet with God. You’ve learned over the years how important it is to read your Bible and pray daily. You pray for others and sometimes for yourself. You wish you were more consistent but at least you’re doing something to connect with God and care for others. Aren’t you doing enough already? Why complicate things with a “prayer rule?” However, since a prayer rule is how Christians communed with God for most of Church history, let’s assume it would be good to re-introduce it to ourselves. So, how should you begin to build your prayer rule? Read the advice of one who engages in a prayer rule and who encourages others in it. 

 

 

The rule is for man, and not the other way around.

Archpriest Andrei Ovchinikov writes: 

—There are three important components to a prayer rule: proper measure, consistency, and quality.

1. Proper measure. The proper measure adorns a person in any work—both earthly and spiritual. It is very important to find the middle, royal path. This is a surety of success. This law is important and relevant in our prayer rule. We have to force ourselves in prayer on the one hand, but refrain from zeal not according to reason on the other. We mustn’t be lazy, but it is also dangerous to overdo it. In my view, it is better not to complete something in a prayer rule, and leave the desire to pray for another day. Overdoing it more often than not causes aversion and inner protest. The fathers say that the small rule is without price. Obviously there is need of a spiritual guide here, who is experienced and discerning in the practical work of prayer. But this advice presupposes a measure of freedom and personal choice on the part of the inquirer.

Do not take on a long rule. Let it be something that you could do all your life. Remember: The rule is for man, and not the other way around. The proper measure found keeps a person in good spiritual shape, but also preserves joy in the heart and the desire for prayer. Take many factors into consideration: age, health, marital status, workload, and so on. The fruit of correct prayer labor is deep humility and inner peace.

2. Consistency. Be consistent in prayer. This is what the apostle Paul tells us to do. Success in any work depends upon our zeal and consistency—but not only on this. To be sure, the rolling stone gathers no moss. But we also have to remember that we are only God’s co-workers. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase (1 Cor. 3:7). It is essential that God bless our labors. The holy fathers talk about synergy—about our consistent labor in prayer and grace-filled help from on high. This is the pledge of our success. There can be no pauses in the labor of prayer. The labor of prayer reminds us of riding a bicycle or rowing upstream—only unremitting effort and work ensure our forward movement. The same laws are at work in prayer: Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). For the sake of our constancy in the work of prayer, dryness of heart and emotional boredom will with time give place to a robust spirit and the desire for prayer. This is a sign of progress and grace-filled help from above.

3. Quality. Quality is better than quantity. Anyone who has decided to take up the work of prayer should remember this. The quality of prayer can be determined by two signs: attention of the mind and depth of repentance in the heart.

St. John Climacus calls attention the soul of prayer. He counsels anyone to enclose the mind in the words of prayer. At first this very hard for everyone, but we mustn’t give up. If we put in the effort, God will definitely help us, and in time will send a guardian angel for our prayer.

Repentance in the heart and deep humility —this is the true table of oblation from which God accepts our spiritual sacrifices, the most important of which is prayer. Also, be at prayer like a burbling child and a guileless infant—forgive all those who have offended you and pray for them. Remember your irredeemable debt before God, and then it will be easier for you to forgive people. It is important to acquire inner lamentation of heart over your sins—the important sign of true repentance.

Understandably, it is possible to fulfill these conditions with a short prayer rule. Everything of authentically good quality is usually found as a limited edition. In teaching music to children we require them to play “purely” a simple scale, when learning a foreign language we have to correctly build a phrase, and a beginning driver has to keep from knocking over the flags when parking. Experience comes with time, and then more labors can be added. But we will fulfill with humility our small prayer rule, everyday and consistently, controlling the quality of our prayer, remembering that it is not our labors that determine success, but God’s all-powerful aid—with which everything is possible for us in this life and the next.

As you begin to build a prayer rule keep these three characteristics in mind. It would also be good to remember them as you regularly practice your prayer rule. 

I will provide more specifics in posts to come. 

Dr. K 

How To Pray From Someone Who Knows What He’s Talking About

I awake this morning, after a restless night, feeling out of sorts. My muscles ache and my mind races. I don’t feel like praying. Yet, as much as I want to give in to my feelings, I know it’s better to show up at my place of solitude and start saying my prayers. So, lacking much desire or enthusiasm, I show up and start. The lousy feelings soon die down replaced by a sense of God’s gracious presence. I’m nothing special. I struggle with prayer. It’s the power of a compelling Prayer Rule. 

 

St. Theophan the Recluse, a beloved Orthodox bishop from 19th c. Russia, encourages all Christians to establish a prayer rule due to our weaknesses of laziness or enthusiasm. Having lived by a Prayer Rule for decades, he passes to us words of wisdom… 

 

A prayer rule for one who is on the path of a God-pleasing life.

 

You ask about a prayer rule. Yes, it is good to have a prayer rule on account of our weakness so that on the one hand we do not give in to laziness, and on the other hand we restrain our enthusiasm to its proper measure. The greatest practitioners of prayer kept a prayer rule. They would always begin with established prayers, and if during the course of these a prayer started on its own, they would put aside the others and pray that prayer. If this is what the great practitioners of prayer did, all the more reason for us to do so. Without established prayers, we would not know how to pray at all. Without them, we would be left entirely without prayer.

However, one does not have to do many prayers. It is better to perform a small number of prayers properly than to hurry through a large number of prayers, because it is difficult to maintain the heat of prayerful zeal when they are performed to excess.

I would consider the morning and evening prayers as set out in the prayer books to be entirely sufficient for you. Just try each time to carry them out with full attention and corresponding feelings. To be more successful at this, spend a little of your free time at reading over all the prayers separately. Think them over and feel them, so that when you recite them at your prayer rule, you will know the holy thoughts and feelings that are contained in them. Prayer does not mean that we just recite prayers, but that we assimilate their content within ourselves, and pronounce them as if they came from our minds and hearts.

After you have considered and felt the prayers, work at memorizing them. Then you will not have to fumble about for your prayer book and light when it is time to pray; neither will you be distracted by anything you see while you are performing your prayers, but can more easily maintain thoughtful petition toward God. You will see for yourself what a great help this is. The fact that you will have your prayer book with you at all times and in all places is of great significance. Being thus prepared, when you stand at prayer be careful to keep your mind from drifting and your feeling from coldness and indifference, exerting yourself in every way to keep your attention and to spark warmth of feeling. After you have recited each prayer, make prostrations, as many as you like, accompanied by a prayer for any necessity that you feel, or by the usual short prayer. This will lengthen your prayer time a little, but its power will be increased. You should pray a little longer on your own especially at the end of your prayers, asking forgiveness for unintentional straying of the mind, and placing yourself in God’s hands for the entire day.

You must also maintain prayerful attention toward God throughout the day. For this, as we have already mentioned more than once, there is remembrance of God; and for remembrance of God, there are short prayers. 

                                  — from The Spiritual Life and How To Be Attuned to It, pp. 204-209

If you’ve never considered a Prayer Rule for yourself, consider one now. If you’ve begun organizing your prayer times with set patterns, may you be encouraged to continue. If you’re a veteran of a Prayer Rule, let it guide you to the heart of God. 

Dr. K 

Sharing The Secret To Resonant Communion With God

Freedom Is Found Within A Rule

Wouldn’t it be great if you could organize an everyday prayer habit? Given the choice between a sporadic, sketchy prayer routine and a vibrant, vital one, most Christians would choose the latter. Yet, many Christians do not know how to establish a vibrant, vital prayer routine or maybe fear the idea of organized prayer. Most are familiar with “daily devotions,” “morning quiet time,” or “Bible study.”  However, they’ve never been challenged to organize a daily “prayer rule” to enhance their relationship with God. I offer up that challenge.

 

The idea of a rule for Christian prayer has been around for centuries. It is how the Church prays whether liturgically or personally. The concept of personal “spontaneous” prayers is a relatively modern one. Though spontaneity may be beneficial in communion with God, it should not be the totality of your prayer life. A prayer rule provides the foundation and framing upon which resonant communion with God is built. 

Perhaps the reason so many Christians struggle in prayer is because they think they need to make up their own prayers every time they pray. This becomes difficult to sustain as they find themselves either at loss as to what to say or stuck saying the same inane words over and over again. 

These frustrations with prayer can be eliminated by establishing a prayer rule. 

Meaning of Rule

The English word “canon” comes from the Greek κανών, meaning “rule” or “measuring stick.” 

By establishing a prayer “rule” you set up a personal “canon” – a list of prayers you say daily at set times and, if possible, at set places. This rule becomes the guiding authority for communion with God. It also provides a “measuring stick” to size up the scope of your prayer life. 

You may defensively react to such notions. Any idea of putting “rules” on prayer seems legalistic or restraining. Yet, it’s actually freeing. 

Like rules for any activity, a prayer rule sets you free to engage God with genuine attentiveness. Can you imagine playing basketball without rules? It would be a chaotic mess with every player doing whatever he/she wants just as long as the ball goes through the hoop. It would cease to be a basketball game and resemble a 5-on-5, free-for-all, full contact fight. For any activity, rules are a must.

I am not advocating that a set of rules be placed on how you pray, though some guidance is usually good. I’m suggesting that you establish a set way of praying into which you enter daily. For example, a prayer rule may include certain liturgical prayers, silence, intercessory prayers, psalms, prayers of thanksgiving or praying at certain times during the day. 

You are free then to enter what has already been established as good and fruitful rather than “winging it,” making it up as you go hoping something good will result. 

Over the next couple weeks, my posts will help you establish a prayer rule. I hope you’ll take  up the challenge to commune with God using a prayer rule. 

Dr. K 

 

When Frustration, Confusion, and Distress Are Good For You

Realizing God & Self from Psalm 73

How does God get us to understand that He is all we need for all of life? He places us in situations that frustrate and confuse us, that He might show us who He really is. 

We learn best when we attentively observe what is happening around us, reflect on those experiences, and acknowledge God in all of it. This might be a good way to describe wisdom. It might also be the way to know God. 

A lesser-known but significant writer in the OT is Asaph. He was a staff liturgist and musician in the temple in Jerusalem. As one of the three Levites commissioned by David in charge of singing in the house of Yahweh, he played and sang praise and thanksgiving to the Lord (2 Chronicles 5.11-14).

We know his best work as a liturgist. He composed beautiful psalms out of his own experience of God appropriate for the temple choir and personal prayer. These thoughtful reflections are forever preserved for us in Psalms 50 and 73-83. 

As a member of the temple staff, he had a clear view of the conduct of temple officers, other officials and those who attended the services. He saw the good and not-so-good. In any organization – sacred or otherwise – there is generally a less-than pleasant underbelly that frequently displays itself. This is also true of today’s church. The conduct of “the saints” often isn’t so saintly. 

Perhaps it was out of these kinds of telling experiences that Asaph penned Psalm 73. “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me…” He’s saying, “I know this about God. But, I also know this about myself…I am envious and weary of those who prosper in spite of their pride, foolishness, wickedness, and malicious speech. I see it every day and it distresses me.” Can you relate? 

Have you ever thought: “God is good to those who deserve it (like me!), but bad people don’t deserve God’s goodness?” You struggle to know or even like that kind of God. 

To Asaph, this experience was frustrating and embittering. That is, until he went to God in a sacred place where his heart opened to reality. These prideful people face an appropriate end. He had focused on a portion of their journey ignoring God and His competence to deal with them in due time. Being with God changed his perspective and renewed his confidence in God. 

In this experience, Asaph learned these realities about God: 

  • Yahweh is caring and guides his own – “you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel…” 
  • Yahweh is accepting of his own – “afterward, you will receive me to glory.” 
  • Yahweh is strong – “God is the strength of my heart…” 
  • Yahweh is whole, complete, and full – “God is…my portion forever.” 
  • Yahweh is just and fair with all including “bad people” – “you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.” 

In this experience, Asaph learned these realities about himself: 

  • I can be brutish and ignorant, like a beast towards God.
  • Nevertheless, I am continually with God (these two realities together are simply amazing!).
  • I have God in heaven and on earth. 
  • There is nothing on earth I desire besides God (what about wealth, security, success, good reputation, progress?). 
  • My flesh and heart may fail. But all that God is, is mine.
  • It is good for me to be near God – can be translated: “my fullness is to cling to God.” 
  • I go to God and find what I need.
  • I speak to others out of my experience of God. 

Note how Asaph’s understanding of God and his situation shifted as he invested time with God. In experiencing God, he began to see God and himself more clearly. Knowledge of God is always related to knowledge of ourselves. To know God we must know ourselves. We only truly know ourselves as we truly know God. This dual knowledge develops as we learn to participate in God’s life.

As Asaph knows: “my fullness is to cling to God.” 

How are you seeing God more clearly so you can see yourself and others around you more clearly? 

Dr. K 

8 Biblical Ways To A Purer Heart

"Blessed are the Pure in Heart for They Shall See God"

What is it to be “pure in heart?” The pure in heart see God and live in God’s blessedness, his “congratulations,” according to Jesus (Matthew 5.8). Apparently, to truly know God (“see God”), a pure heart is necessary.  

Imagine this scenario. While at church, where he’s supposed to focus on God, Terry struggles with his feelings towards Carl. There’s no animosity between them; nothing seriously wrong. He simply has a hard time with some of Carl’s actions. Terry observes Carl inattentively crooning his way through worship team practice oblivious to others. He acts like God’s gift to every struggling believer he meets offering his sage wisdom whether they want to hear it or not. Apparently, his M.A. in counseling qualifies him to tell others how to live their lives. In Terry’s opinion, Carl is much too comfortable talking about himself.

Terry is not too happy with himself, either. He knows he is too judgmental, overthinking most things including Carl’s actions. Terry knows if he had a pure heart Carl’s behavior would not affect him like it does. He’d be able to be with and commune with God no matter what was happening around him or who was with him. Terry’s sure he can’t “see” God because his heart is disfigured and hazy with contempt and self-righteousness. Yet, he really wants a pure heart. 

Terry’s only hope for a pure heart is Jesus Christ. Jesus clearly sees God. His heart is pure. He doesn’t have the heart issues that Terry does. No doubt, Terry needs to become more like Jesus. 

Purity of Heart

When Jesus speaks of purity he moves it from external purification ceremony, as the Jews would understand it, to inner reality. He is not giving a moralistic rule of what behaviors to avoid in order to become pure or judge purity. To Him, purity is a matter of the heart.

Purity of heart involves simple excellence and untainted virtuousness at the level of the will and mind. Desires and thoughts are clear, fresh, and sparkling with God’s grace, mercy, and love. A person’s inner being is unmixed, unadulterated, and uncontaminated by any kind of defilement. The heart is wholesome and good. 

Jesus is the only human to have such a heart. A few develop such a heart as they die to themselves and live in union with Him. The rest of us struggle to even think about such purity let alone be so transformed to live it. 

How can your heart become more pure? 

  1. By obedience to the living and abiding Word (logos), Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1.22-2.12
  2. By suffering which purifies. Scripture and history abounds with many examples of people purified by suffering when they allow the suffering to do its good work.  
  3. By keeping God’s commandments, storing up God’s word in your heart, learning and delighting in God’s statutes, meditating on God’s precepts, fixing your eyes on God’s ways. Ps. 119.9-16
  4. By recognizing that saying your heart is clean and pure is easy. But the true test is your conduct. Proverbs 20.9-11 
  5. By setting your mind on beauty, truth, and goodness including purity. Philippians 4.8
  6. By living in the hope of Christ’s appearing. 1 John 3.2-3
  7. By remembering that you don’t purity yourself. God purifies. Titus 1.11-14; Hebrews 9.13-14
  8. By humbling yourself in drawing near to God, de-friending the world, resisting Satan, and living in repentance. James 4.4-10

Do you want to see God? Then set a priority on developing a pure heart in union with Purity Himself. 

How will you begin to develop a pure heart? 

Dr. K 

Seeking God vs. Seeking Experiences

God Himself Is Reward Enough

Many people who begin to explore a deeper relationship with God discover a desire to have heightened experiences of God. Call these experiences “mystical,” “beatific,” or “ecstatic,” they often become the focus of their spiritual journey. Visions of God, ecstatic dreams, glowing lights, or euphoric feelings become the measure or goal of spiritual progress. Here are some thoughts on encountering God.  

There is no biblical example of anyone seeking a religious, mystical, or ecstatic experience. However, there are many examples of people having religious, mystical, (not sure I’d call them ecstatic) experiences. The Holy Spirit descending on the gathered at Pentecost. Paul ushered into the third heaven. Abraham bowing before the unconsumed burning bush. Moses speaking with God in the darkness of Mount Sinai. Mary talking with the angel Gabriel about the birth of Jesus and an angel coming to Joseph in a dream. Paul struck down on the road to Damascus. Peter seeing a sheet filled with food. Isaiah’s seeing a vision of the Lord, angels, and having conversation with heavenly beings. 

None of these encounters with God were sought after by those to whom they happened. They unexpectedly happened…because God wanted them to happen.  

Seeking mystical or spiritual experiences can be dangerous leading to spiritual delusion and wrong thinking. A person can think they’re near to God into the realm of the divine or supernatural. They believe every event in their life has some kind of spiritual significance and direct intention from God. (these thoughts are from Sacramental Living podcast, Michael Haldas, Sept. 9, 2017) Much of life is “spiritualized” in a euphoric air wrapped in supernatural facade. 

In contrast, it is better to seek God than to seek an experience of God. For many, however, the line between these two is fuzzy. Since to know God is to experience Him, it’s easy to substitute the experience of God for God Himself. Therefore, you come to God with expectations. He’s supposed to heal, satisfy, communicate, shine, answer, encourage, or make you feel good; whatever it is that you need right now.

Yet, how you experience God is not yours to control. He can do, or not do, as He pleases. He is under no obligation to meet your expectations. 

This becomes even more troublesome as emotions take center stage in religious experience. 

Consider the few examples of encounters with God given above. I question whether any of these encounters involved elevated emotional experiences often associated with experiences of God by contemporary Christians and their leaders. I’m not saying that emotions weren’t involved. Unfortunately, our modern emphasis on emotions & feelings makes them the measure of our relationship with God. When we’re stirred or moved, we believe we’re close to God. When we don’t feel Him, we think He’s far away. Beware of emotions becoming an end in themselves. They are a fickle guide on our journey with God.

No doubt, experiencing God is essential to really knowing Him. You only truly know what you experience. When you seek God alone, no matter the outcome – emotional or informational – you find He is enough. Could this be what Jesus teaches when he invites us to go away by ourselves, shut the door, and pray to the unseen Father? “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you” or “be your reward“ (my interpretation). Matthew 6.6 

Seek God and Him only. Leave the results to Him. 

How are you seeking God today? 

Dr. K