How to Begin Praying


Hole in a wine barrel.

[Excuse the male-centered language. It is a 50-year-old quotation]

“Let a man begin in prayer where he is, and that means anywhere, with any problem, with any desire. If what he asks for has him in its grip, that means that God can meet him there. If he has a ruling passion to be liked by others, to be selected to an important post, to be able to hold his marriage together, to recover the confidence of a son or daughter, why should this not come squarely into his prayer? We can begin anywhere in petitionary prayer.” (Steere, Douglas V. Dimensions of Prayer. New York: Women’s Division of Christian Service, 1962, p. 67.)

“How do I start praying?,” the question comes. I start praying exactly where I am. But I may have to begin by admitting that I’m not quite sure where I’m at. I may feel I’m standing in a fog as I begin to pray. I may have to acknowledge that I feel anxious, distracted and fearful as I come to an intended moment of prayer. This can be the starting point of my prayer. I get stuck when I try to start my prayer from a place where I am not, when I try to pray prayers I imagine God wants to hear rather than the actual things on my heart.

So here’s the quotation in my own words: “Let’s begin in prayer just where we find ourselves—anywhere, with any problem or any desire. If what we ask for has us in its grip, God can meet us right there. If we are overwhelmed by a craving for the approval of others, for an important position, healing in our marriages or reconciliation with a son or daughter, why wouldn’t we bring that right into our prayer? When it comes to prayer, it’s best to start right where we find ourselves.”

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Seek God First


IMG_0808Since the beginning of December, I’ve been reading in the Philokalia as part of my morning rhythm. These are writings in the Orthodox tradition that begin (in volume 1 that I’m reading) with the Christian desert fathers in the fourth century. These were followers of Jesus who, when Constantine made Christianity the official Roman religion, felt they could only remain faithful in their following by separating themselves from this whole religious system, following Jesus into the wilderness. They lived in the deserts of Egypt and surrounding regions. Their lives are so distant from me in time, place and culture, but I’ve found much to nourish my soul in what they said.

In this morning’s reading, I came across this in Evagrius the Solitary’s On Prayer: One Hundred and Fifty-Three Texts.

“Do not be distressed if you do not at once receive from God what you ask. He wishes to give you something better—to make you persevere in your prayer. For what is better than to enjoy the love of God and to be in communion with Him?” (Text #34)

I’ve heard this insight before, but I’m awfully slow to establish it in my assumptions and expectations. If I always got everything I asked right when I asked, how would perseverance grow in me? And if I limited myself only to what I asked, how would I learn to notice Jesus giving me something better, namely, communion with God? Am I primarily seeking God, or am I mainly seeking something from God? He is seeking to lift my gaze from the blessings in his hands to the blessings of his own gaze. Will I let him teach me by being patient when what I ask does not come very soon?

Reflection: What prayer seems to have gone unanswered in your life? How might Jesus be drawing your attention to himself, seeking to deepen your perseverance in seeking Him even more than whatever else you’ve sought from Him?

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Freedom is Harder Than It Looks


IMG_2884I recent came across these words on the temptation to hold onto familiar slavery at the cost of unfamiliar freedom. I have the promised land in my hopes, but still a bit of Egypt in my appetites:

“[Reflecting on the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt] God’s will is that the security of slaves is to be forsaken and replaced by the insecurity of free men in the making. This is a difficult situation because while we are in the making we do not yet know how to be free and we do not want to be slaves any more. Remember what happened to the Jews in the wilderness, how often they regretted the time when they were enslaved in Egypt, but fed. How often they complained that now they were without a roof, without food, dependent on the will of God, which they had not yet learned to rely upon completely; for God gives us grace, but leaves it to us to become new creatures.” (Bloom, Anthony. Living Prayer. Springfield: Templegate Publishers, 1966, p. 27.)

When it comes to the slaveries in my own life—obsessions, compulsions and such–there is a security in familiar slavery that I hold onto in the face of the insecurity of true but unfamiliar freedom.

“Jesus, I feel the substance of this insight. There are ways that I want and need to be free, but I resist surrendering something that seems to have met a need for me (like being fed as a slave) for an unknown (though I’m sure truer and better) way that need would be met. Help me step into the freedoms You have for me with courage and mature perspective. Do not let me fall back to childish fear. Amen.”

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Never Worry About Anything


peaceful_place_wallpaper_4f3f3Anxiety is all too often my unwelcome traveling companion on the journey. I can autopilot my way into fairly high anxiety with both hands tied behind my back (which also makes me anxious). A familiar text that is also becoming an intimate friend is Paul’s counsel about anxiety in Philippians 4:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (vs. 6-7).”

I’m inviting into a peace that cannot be comprehended. I have a preference for things that I can grasp, but this peace is not one of those things. How do I experience this peace that I can’t wrap my arms around? Verse 6 is the counsel I pursue. Verse 7 is the fruit it produces. Sequence matters here. I must remember what is God’s fruit and what is my pursuit.

So, instead of lingering in my anxious thoughts and feelings, I can acknowledge what I am fearful of being without and ask the Father for it through Jesus. I can also give thanks that whatever it is I need will be generously provided. This way of responding to inner movements of worry and anxiety enable me to live peacefully beyond any human explanation.

Too often, my efforts to follow this counsel feel like a skeleton with no meat on the bones. Thank You, Jesus, that Your Spirit is able to re-assemble dry bones and knit muscle and flesh into them. May your Spirit knit muscle of willing action onto the bones of my intentions. Amen.

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Psalm 27: Things I Don’t Want From God


Psalm 27:9-12
9 Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;

you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.

David prays, “Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger.” Surely there is part of David that knows God would never abandon him. But, perhaps in the midst of attack and danger, he feels an absence of God and his help. Perhaps he wonders whether the bad things happening to him are caused by his own many failings and shortcomings, and so prays, “Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior.”

I know the sense of God’s apparent absence, rejection or abandonment. There are times when outward troubles and inward angst tempt me to believe that God has finally had enough of me and has decided to try His hand with someone else. Rather than pretend I don’t feel this way, it’s better, like David, to simply pray these feelings to God. I bring those feelings together with my proclamation of God as helper and Savior. I affirm that even if I were forsaken by the human loved ones who should never abandon me (mother, father, siblings, wife, sons?), the Lord will always receive me, welcome me, embrace me.

In such places, it makes good sense to ask Him to guide me and counsel me, to “teach me Your way, O Lord, lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.” I don’t want my enemy to have any grounds for accusation or condemnation. I want to be free of footholds of guilt or shame that he might take in my life.

What do my foes desire? Like Jesus’s description of the evil one in John 10, they come only to kill, steal and destroy. What he can’t murder, he takes. What he can’t take, he makes useless for anyone else to enjoy. He has no interest in life or living. He only desires to take life away from everyone else. And, like the false witness David speaks of, He is fine with lying to get what he wants.

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Dealing with Distraction in Prayer


“As to distractions, it seems true that the way to meet them is not by effort, but by cessation of effort; not by wrestling with them, but by simply dropping them.” (R. Hugh Benson. Spiritual Letters of Monsignor R. Hugh Benson to One of His Converts. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1919, p. 9.)

I love this simple counsel for dealing with distractions in prayer. Anyone who prays regularly or even occasionally knows the experience of inward distraction. I’m not talking so much about the dog barking next door, the noisy neighbor or the garbage truck banging around the neighborhood. I’m talking about distractions of the mind and heart. Nothing increases distraction more than wrestling with them. I’ve discovered that acknowledging them, but basically ignoring them has been a much better approach.

Last night, a couple of young men from the Church of Latter Day Saints knocked on our door. I normally don’t answer to be honest. But my sons are more hospitable than me so they did. I let the two know that we were having a Labor Day evening as a family, but to come back another time. Unlike answering the door to these young men, answering the door when distractions knock is a quick way to give them greater access to my thinking and feeling. And that not exactly what I actually want!

For Reflection: When you pray, do you experience inward distractions? How do you tend to deal with them? How is that working?

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Recent Popular Posts


Greetings! I find myself praying and trusting that you have experienced something of the fresh affection and deep delight the Father and the Son feel for you in this fall season. I’m feeling deep gratitude for some of these myself.

I’m sending along this little email to link you to blog posts over the last couple of months that have been most visited. I hope one or two of them will prove encouraging to you in your spiritual life and leadership:

  • Morning Prayer: Overcoming Powerful Enemies” – This is one of those posts from a while back that has ended up being a commonly found Google search item. I share about overcoming my own powerful enemies of anxiety, fear, self-doubt and low confidence, based on Psalm 118:17-19 NIV.
  • Unhurried Life: Help Get the Word Out” – Towards the end of summer, I asked friends of the blog to get the word out about my book, An Unhurried Life, via Facebook, Twitter, Amazon reviews, blog posts, etc. I was grateful for so many who took initiative and helped spread the word. We saw quite a few new readers get on board. If you didn’t get a chance to participate, but would be willing now, please click through for a few suggestions of how you could now.
  • An Autumn Prayer” –  As we entered September, I shared my autumn prayer from a year ago. It was a prayer for focus and simplicity.
  • Five Soul Care Questions” – If you’ve been reading the blog recently, you’ll know that I just finished a six-part blog series on this theme. I took the five key questions of Romans 8:31-39 and reflected on them. There was a very positive response to these.
  • When You Can’t Pray for Yourself” – I shared and reflected on a great word from F. B. Meyer in his book The Secret of Guidance. The substance of his counsel? When you can’t pray for yourself, pray for someone else.
  • Psalm 3: The God Who Sustains Me” – In Psalm 3, David says, “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” I reflected on what God’s sustaining has been like in my journey. 

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