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 

 

Today Is The Perfect Day To Be With Jesus

Seek First His Kingdom & Righteousness

What’s on your schedule today? Get kids to school? Meet with your company’s CEO? Go grocery shopping? Take your dog to the vet? Make 5 sales calls? Have lunch with a friend? Attend your son’s soccer game? Prepare your Bible study lesson? Study for tomorrow’s exam? Drop off clothes at Goodwill? Fix dinner for the family? Mow the yard? Get a hair cut? Stop yelling at the kids? Help a neighbor? Pray? Today is the perfect day to do all of this with Jesus. 

How about, spend time with Jesus? Is that on your schedule? Today is the perfect day to be with Jesus. The good news is that you can accomplish what’s on your schedule while spending time with Jesus. It’s not “either/or but “both/and” – you can BOTH accomplish what’s on your agenda AND be with Jesus. 

While you are driving, meeting, calling, eating, preparing, watching, fixing, or mowing you can be with Jesus. That’s good news. 

Even greater news is that Jesus is already with you and in you. You just have to pay attention…something that’s challenging to do since there is so much in a day that preoccupies your attention and distracts your heart and mind from God. 

Jesus invites you to live like this when He says: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6.33). The priority of each day you live is God – His governance/authority/rule and His goodness/reality – in all things. When you live with God’s governance and goodness already present and active in and around you, you are assured of all other responsibilities being realized.

Schedules are best accomplished as you participate in God’s rule in union with Him. 

Actually devoting your every moment to Jesus Christ while doing everything else will take some concerted effort. Prayer is the key. 

You’re probably already connecting with God in prayer before your meals – three times a day. 

You can increase prayer times to the traditional “hours” of 6 AM & 9 AM, Noon, 3 PM, 6 PM, and 9 PM. Say the Lord’s prayer at these times drawing your heart to God. Set alerts on your phone for these hours as reminders to pray. You can pray silently wherever you are or whatever you’re doing at these times. 

You can “pray without ceasing” using the Jesus Prayer as the instrument played all throughout the day. Commune with God continually as you repeat the Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

As you drive, don’t turn on the radio or CD player but use the time to pray the Jesus Prayer and commune with God…yes, even with children present. 

Do this same thing as you fix meals, mow the lawn, sit in meetings, watch games, or eat your food. 

You will discover joy, peace, goodness and love like never before. Anxiety and fear will lessen. You’ll see beauty everywhere. You’ll become more like Jesus.

It’s simply the best way to live each day. 

How will you commune with God throughout the day today? 

Dr. K

P.S. Here’s a little cliche to practice: Commune as you commute. 

Advocating The Use Of The Psalms as Prayer

Using The Words God Has Given Us To Pray

Lisa is struggling to pray. She’s tired of saying the same words day after day like a broken record stuck in the same groove. She wants to liven up her prayer life – giving it new substance and earnestness. She isn’t asking to get more “into” prayer, more emotion or passion. She senses that if she can sincerely and concretely connect to God her relationship with God can move to another level – deeper and spiritually sharpened. One excellent way to address her desire and enhance her prayer life is to pray the Psalms. 

From the Introduction to The Ancient Faith Psalter comes these words that encourage the use of the Psalms in prayer. I invite you to read them and then find a way to insert the psalms into your praying.

The Psalter is the prayer book of the Church. It has been so since before there was a Christian Church. There is an ancient saying, attributed to St. Athanasius the Great, that “the Psalms are different from the rest of Scripture in that while the rest of Scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us.” When we pray the Psalms, we are praying the words God has given us to pray. It has also been said that the story of God’s dealing with Israel is an allegory of each person’s spiritual journey, the story of God’s dealings with every human soul. Therefore, in as much as the Psalms sum up and interpret the story of Israel, the Psalms also sum up and interpret the spiritual journey of every human being. 

The Psalms touch every experience of human life in our fallen world. Every joy and every terror, every fear and every hope are found expressed in the Psalms.Some psalms are beautiful, to the point of seeming sentimental; others are bloody and apparently vindictive. Such a range of emotion and experience is offered to us in prayer because in some inner or outer way, at some time in our life, we will all experience this full range of thoughts and feelings. In fact, because some of these thoughts and feelings are so extreme, so evidently horrible, it is only through praying the Psalms that we come to realize and then confess to ourselves and to God in prayer that yes, even such terrible things as these have at one time or another passed through our minds and perhaps even our hands. 

This literal reading of the Psalms, however, is only the beginning. As one prays the Psalms, one soon begins to realize that the enemy, the Amalekite or Philistine, the nations that rage against God, are not people or situations outside myself but are most poignantly referring to the wicked impulses and evil thoughts I must battle within myself. The Psalmist’s cry for deliverance becomes my own as I see within my own heart and mind the struggle between good and evil, the betraying thought, the accusing word, or the mocking laugh. The Psalms give us words, images, and metaphors by which we can cry out to God for help in the midst of our inner struggles. What the Psalmist describes externally speaks to our inner struggles because all our outer conflict is a reflection of inner struggle. Is this not what Jesus told us — it is out of the heart that murders and adultery flow (Matt. 15:19)? 

The Psalter is a prophetic book. It speaks prophetically of Christ, but it also speaks prophetically of all who are in Christ. Just as “strong bulls surround” Christ on the cross, so too all who pick up their cross and follow Christ experience, in one form or another, this attack of the strong and come to know their own weakness in resisting it, their own need to be delivered from “the power of the dog…the mouth of the lion…[and] the horns of the wild bulls.” Similarly, the prophetic declaration of the Resurrection of Christ, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered,” is also our declaration as we experience moments of deliverance and help over our inner enemies. The Psalms speak of God and man, Christ and Christian, inner and outer conflict, victory and defeat, heaven and earth, wisdom and foolishness. With few words and much meaning, the Psalms provide the images and words for every prayer, every need, every celebration on our journey through this world. 

          — from the Introduction to The Ancient Faith Psalter (pp. 5-7, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016) 

I urge you to pray the Psalms. You’ll be thankful that you did. 

Dr. K 

What Every Christian Should Know About Prayer

It's Not What You Think

You only truly know what you experience. So when a disciple made the request to Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” Jesus did not give his disciples a book to read, a program to follow, or a video to watch. He didn’t form a small group to study prayer. He didn’t give them words to study, exegete, or preach. He gave his disciples words to say and a way to say them. That, according to Jesus, is what it means to pray. That’s how you learn to know how to pray. You learn to pray by praying. There is no theory here, no theoretical ideas at all.

 

You don’t understand Jesus’ words in order to say them. You say them in order to understand them. 

Jesus made prayer accessible and good. We’ve made prayer complicated and intimidating. Let me save you hours of frustration and help prayer become simple again. 

Learn to Pray By Praying 

Learning to pray is a meandering path for many Christians. My journey with God in prayer has taken me from a period when I dismissed prayer as unnecessary to the present where prayer has become an integral part of each day. Along the way were long stretches of inconsistent time with God followed by short bursts of focused effort. On my own I tried my best to learn how to pray by reading books on prayer. “I need to pray! So, I’ll read a book about prayer.” Huh?

However, what I needed to do was actually pray. Learning comes in doing. You learn to play the guitar by playing the guitar. You learn to swim by swimming. You learn to cook by cooking. You learn to pray by praying. Jesus knew this. When asked to “Teach us to pray,” Jesus gave his disciples words to say and a way to say them.

We have much to learn from this brief exchange. But first let’s see that…

Prayer is best learned by repeating a set prayer.

Jesus gave his disciples a liturgy, a prayer liturgy – a form or order to follow with meaningful words expressing the essentials for living in relationship with God. Good prayer liturgy is the way you learn to pray. Good prayer liturgy teaches you to know God and yourself in relationship with Him. It’s that simple. 

Here it is simple and plain. Learn to pray by saying this prayer from Jesus in the morning, at meals, and at night. 

Our Father in the heavens, hallowed be your name

Your kingdom come

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, 

Give us today our bread 

and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors 

and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. 

Don’t listen to the ignorant naysayers who believe that repeating a set of words becomes boring, methodical, nonsensical, and rote. They don’t actually know what they’re talking about. Real liturgical prayer is filled with meaning, struggle, surprises, depth, and wonder. Follow Jesus. He knows what he’s talking about. 

I have been saying these words almost daily (and now multiple times during the day) for over 5 years now. After all these years, I’ve not tapped into the depth of their meaning though new experiences of prayer sometimes happen. This prayer, in particular, is an inexhaustible treasure of God’s life, love, and light. 

Say it consistently with a humble heart and you’ll discover its treasure. 

How will you implement Jesus’ prayer to his disciples in your own daily life? What obstacles do you need to overcome in order for this to happen? When will you start? Share below. 

Dr. K 

One Effective Way To Triumph During Intense Struggle

A Prayer is Your Key To Victory

Recently, a young man that I mentor told me a story about his use of the Jesus prayer during a recent struggle. It illustrates the effectiveness of prayer and the Jesus prayer in particular.  

I had a very disturbing dream, in the vein of an ongoing struggle I’ve had for years. In the dream, filled with alarming distress, I began praying the Jesus prayer (while still asleep). At that point, I awoke praying the prayer audibly, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It was then that God’s peace and a deep experience of His mercy quietly filled me. I was able to fall back to sleep. For the rest of the night I slept soundly.

The Jesus prayer is a spiritual weapon that can be used against any temptation and in any situation calling for an immediate, powerful cry for help. 

One of the advantages of the Jesus prayer is that you do not have to try to remember it once you’ve been using it for a time. For many years, I tried to memorize verses that would help me overcome sins and faults in my life. As effective as these were, I struggled with instantly recalling them to mind when I needed them. After many frustrating and failed experiences, I realized that I was trying to deal with temptation and my own fleshly passions with an intellectual weapon – my thoughts. Even though these thoughts contained scripture, I still fumbled when pulling the bible gun from my holster. I needed something more readily available; something from the heart. 

What makes the Jesus Prayer effective?

  1. When used properly, this prayer aligns the heart and mind forming a “double-barrel” shotgun that can kill the most ardent temptation. It’s more than merely thinking about what to do or exerting will power to overcome the struggle, neither of which are effective. When spoken frequently (silently or audibly), the prayer begins to flow from the heart and is readily available to be used when needed. 
  2. It aligns your heart with God’s heart since, in this moment, you are acknowledging Jesus Christ, inviting Him into your struggle. It’s like the disciples going to Jesus asleep on the boat and asking for His help during a storm.This simple prayer does all of this when you need assistance the most. 

Can’t I just quote scripture like Jesus did when He was tempted? Let’s not forget that when Jesus directly faced Satan’s temptations, He was in total communion with the Father and Spirit. His use of scripture was in the context of a complete participation in the Trinity. He was also prepared through prayer and fasting. He didn’t just hit Satan over the head with Bible verses out of the blue. There’s a whole lot more going on here than just quoting verses. 

Besides, you and I are not Jesus. We struggle mightily to be in communion with God. We need help. The Jesus prayer allows you to commune with God while crying out for His mercy. It’s the perfect tool for what you need during intense struggle.  

St. Paul exhorts us to wear “the whole armor of God” praying always with all prayer and supplication in [spirit], being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication [concerning] all the saints (Ephesians 6.18). In praying the Jesus prayer, you obey St. Paul’s instructions and enter the sphere of the saints who know the beneficial leverage of prayer during struggle.

From your spirit comes the necessary and effective cry for mercy that helps defeat temptation and passions. 

Practice the prayer often during your day’s activities. Then use it in those moments of intense struggle. See how God’s mercy sustains you in every situation. 

Dr. K 

Perpetual Motion & Being With God

Prayer In The Midst Of Much Activity

How do you function in this world while seeking to live in God’s presence? Practically speaking, how can you do what must be done while actually communing with God? 

If you’ll indulge me a bit, I’d like to share an example – 

This past weekend, we are in perpetual motion. Friday, we prepare for a family of guests arriving around 7 PM. We just had our most upper room painted and it had to be put back together – two beds, pictures, decorations, furniture. It’s also our hottest room. So we purchase a portable air conditioner and set that up. Our guests arrive on time. We orient them. They leave for dinner. We grab a dinner ourselves, return to welcome our guests again who want to chat over some wine. So we chit-chat on our back porch until after 11:00 PM. 

After a few hours of sleep, we awake and start preparing breakfast – two new recipes (always makes us a bit nervous), coffee, juice, table settings, ambiance, etc. Our guests come down on time, eat, talk a bit and leave around 9:15 AM. Then it’s clean up – bedding to wash and room clean up. During this time we make arrangements to pick up a buffet from an estate sale. We arrange to borrow a truck, pay for the item over the phone, and get ready to go. Once the breakfast cleanup is done, we head out the door for the 30 minute trip to Soddy-Daisy, TN to get the buffet. 

We arrive at a beautiful farm, chat with the estate owners (friends of ours) for a while, set up a dinner date with them, walk the house, get the buffet loaded and secured on the truck, and head home stopping for lunch on the way. 

We get home, unload the buffet with the help of Doug, our neighbor, and return the borrowed truck. We return home to put together my (Keith’s) new (yippee!) Webber Mountain Smoker since we are having a group gathering Sunday night with ribs on the menu. I spend about 1.5 hours putting it together and get it working to burn off any residual stuff from the manufacturer while Rhonda continues to clean up from our Friday night group.  

While it smokes, we head for N. Georgia to help our brother and sis-in-law look over a house for a potential Airbnb property. On our way home, two hours later, we stop at Wal-Mart to pick up fruit to make a salad for church tomorrow.

Now we’re back home in time to care for some items around the house. We crash on our recliners around 9:00 PM to watch a little Father Brown. Around 10:00 we receive an Airbnb request from a young man who wants to stay tonight. We reply yes. That sets in motion some preparation for his arrival since we are still cleaning up from the group that left that morning. He arrives just after midnight. We talk a bit – he’s a businessman from Columbia, South America who manufactures clothing designed for Latino women. He settles in. We go to bed. 

Sunday morning we are up early and get the fruit salad made. We prepare breakfast for Andres, our guest. Since a single guy is in our home for the morning, we decide that Rhonda will take the fruit salad for church and I’ll stay home to care for our guest. It works out very well. 

As I’m able, between caring for Andres, I begin preparing the ribs – rub, sauce, etc. – and cleaning up breakfast dishes. Andres hangs around until a little after noon. Rhonda returns and we catch a quick lunch, shop for some items for our group dinner, and return home. Now it’s time to get many things ready for the rib dinner and gathering at the pool. 

People start arriving around 5:30 PM. Ribs are smoking. Food is being prepared. We’re talking with people. Music is playing. We’re humming along at a good pace. 

We eat and relax a bit. Then it’s clean-up time and good-byes are said. Around 9:00 PM we sit down to watch the rest of Father Brown (from Friday night). We both go to bed an hour later fairly exhausted and thankful for a full weekend. 

I say all that to say this, the ONLY way I could have communed with God this weekend was to do it while in the midst of all this activity. There was no time for solitude and silence (which I advocate and experience regularly). Yet, there was more than ample time for communion with God in the midst of all this activity. You could say I wasn’t busy: I was praying. 

While dicing bell peppers, tightening screws, driving, skimming the pool, preparing a dry rub and sauce, putting dishes in the dishwasher, cutting grapes in half, setting the table, grinding coffee beans, walking through an estate sale, nodding off to sleep, moving furniture around, and hanging pictures, communion with God can take place.

For me, the best way to commune with God in the midst of activity is to say the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It’s short. It’s memorable. It’s doable. It, over time, connects the heart to God. Without a doubt, it’s my “go-to” prayer allowing me to commune with God all day long, no matter what I’m doing. 

As I reflect back over these 48 hours, my heart is full – not because so much was accomplished, but because God was there and I experienced Him there – wherever and whatever “there” was. 

I am not boasting. I’m thankful. I am thankful that this is where God has me. I am truly happy in the weariness and constant motion because I get to struggle to commune with God in all of it. 

If you’re interested in learning to commune with God throughout your day, learn the Jesus Prayer. Say it as often as you can. It is an effective way to experience God’s presence no matter your level of activity. 

Thanks be to God! 

Dr. K

Helping You Thank Differently

Living 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

As I try to “practice what I preach” by being more thankful, I am experiencing new aspects of thankfulness. I observe what it does to me. What I’m discovering is that living more thankfully gives room for ongoing communion with God. In other words, real thankfulness consistently connects the heart to God.

These experiences remind me of what Paul wrote: 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18)

What he exhorts becomes more of a reality from experiencing thankfulness more fully. There is a radical transformational power when living a life of thankfulness. In thankfulness you know God as you know His will. It’s no longer a matter of repeating words from the Bible to get yourself into a better place; trying to convince yourself that what is written is true. It’s now a matter of actually living His will and life while experiencing the transformational effects of doing so. You are being transformed by actually doing His will. 

Three observations from this passage (in the context of experiencing thankfulness): 

1. This is one sentence. All three practices are to be practiced all at one time. Three practices equal one communion with God. Three practices, one reality.   

Always rejoice — pray unceasingly — in everything give thanks. These actions are inter-related; connected. They are bonded together as a formula for ongoing communion with God. Do you want a life of intimate communion with the Triune God? Then connect with God along this triadic path: rejoice, pray, give thanks always and in everything.  

These are three legs of a stool. Sit on it and commune with God.

This reminds us of the three members of the Trinity. Reside in their community by these practices.

2. Giving thanks is a means to communion with God in Jesus Christ. The ultimate purpose of thankfulness is oneness with God. The Greek word here is eucharisteite. In the eucharist you experience oneness with Jesus Christ. In a eucharistic life, a “giving thanks” life, you experience oneness with God. Expand your experience of thankfulness. Giving thanks to God in every moment and in every situation is a primary means of communing with God. 

Giving thanks implies a recipient of the thanks. You’re giving thanks to someone. When you do, there is a deep connection. This is true of God as well. 

3. All of this is God’s will for you.

Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Rejoice always. Pray always. Give thanks in everything. Clear and simple. 

Do you want to know what it is to live in Christ Jesus? Give thanks in everything. This is not theoretical nor emotional. It’s not even “spiritual.” When you are in Christ Jesus you give thanks in everything. Giving thanks in everything provides a fuller experience of living in Christ Jesus. 

This is what God wants for you. And, honestly, this is what you want for yourself. What a great way to live – doing God’s will in this way. 

The path to knowing God’s will is to rejoice always, pray always, give thanks always. Start here. Don’t make it more complicated than it is. 

The tough part is experiencing HOW to rejoice always, pray always, give thanks always. Here’s some help: 

  • Repeat throughout the day the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
  • Be attentive to what is in front of you for which you can be thankful. Say, “Thank you for _________” throughout the day.
  • Begin your day by saying St. Philaret of Moscow’s Morning prayer:

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will; teach me to pray; pray You Yourself in me. Amen. 

  • Consistently and thoughtfully say “Thank you” before each meal, as you awake and as you fall asleep. 

To a thankful and happy day,

Dr. K