Is your prayer mostly a one-sided monologue with God? Is your time filled with words telling God what you want and how you'd like him to act in the world?
Often we aren't ready to ask God for anything until we quiet our mind and rest in His presences, only then do we really know how to pray. Contemplative prayer is prayer in which we still our thoughts and emotions and become aware of God's presence with us. Contemplative prayer is a way of "abiding in Christ" (John 15:4). In contemplative prayer we make space for the Holy Spirit to work in our heart. It need not be a mystical experience and is far more likely to be a calming experience of resting in Christ. Prayer is a way of being in relationship with God. It's not about doing it perfectly. It's about your intention and your open posture to God.
Phileena Heuertz, author, speaker, and spiritual director, describes contemplative prayer and it's usefulness for Christian spiritual formation.
Unplugging and Listening
1. Choose a quiet place that feels comfortable and safe to you. A place where you are free to be open and available to God. (a favorite chair, a private place in your backyard, etc.) Settle into a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe deeply, relax your body, quiet your mind and become aware of God's presence with you. If it's hard to sit still, take a slow walk in nature.
2. Notice what is true about you. Are you hurried or anxious? Grateful or content? Are you grieving a loss? Is there a question stirring? Let your soul have space to expose what's going on inside, perhaps exposing something you have had a hard time acknowledging. Don't do anything with what surfaces- don't judge it, rationalize it, or try to fix it. Just sit with whatever comes to your awareness being conscious of God's presence with you in that awareness. Be still and let God fight (or work) for you in this space.
3. Don't try to force or make something happen. If nothing surfaces just sit in the quiet awareness of God's presence with you and trust that His Spirit is working in your spirit in ways that you are not fully aware. Rest in God's presence. End your time by breathing in God's love and go with the awareness that your every breath is a gift from God.
1. You may also want to ask God questions.
Foundational Questions: What do I need to know about my relationship with you? Where do I need to grow in character? How do you want to use my life for your glory?
Dilemmas of Life Questions: Why am I so angry with that person? What do I do with this impossible situation? What does my spouse really need from me? How can I connect with my child?
2. Quiet yourself and become aware of God's presences. Ask one question. Breathe deeply and slowly. Sit quietly with your question in God's presence, waiting for the Lord's answer. The answer may come during your prayer time, or it may come at a later unexpected time. Wait patiently, trusting that the Lord will speak if He has something to say.
Sacred Word (Centering Prayer)
1. Choose a word as the symbol of your desire for God and openness to his work within you. (examples of words include: Peace, Love, Grace, Abide, Jesus)
2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your desire for God's presence and action within.
3. When thoughts arise notice them and then return gently to your sacred word. Expect thoughts to come but don't dwell on them; just return gently to the sacred word. The goal is to get beneath the usual level of consciousness, to disregard the noise and the debris on the top of the flowing stream and get below the surface so you can take that awareness into your day.
Encountering God in Scripture
Choose a passage (6-8 verses).
Read the passage slowly, pausing between phrases and sentences. You may read silently or aloud, whatever you find most helpful. As you read, listen for a word or phrase that resonates or catches your attention. This is the word that is meant for you.
How is my life touched by this word? What is it about my life that needs to hear this word? If the passage is a story, you may try to imagine yourself in the story? What do you hear as you place yourself in the story?
Read the passage one more time. Sit in silence and then respond. Tell God the thoughts and feelings the text has aroused. Pay attention to how God may be inviting you to act.
As you emerge from this personal encounter with God, resolve to carry this word with you and to live it out in the context of your day.
Journaling can be a powerful tool for paying attention to your life and God's activity within it. Your journal should be a private place where you can write openly about your feelings, hurts, joys and struggles. As you log words on the page, you take steps into the light by exposing your honest thoughts. Over time, you will notice repetitious themes- struggles and sins; hopes and joys; and answers to prayer. There is no right way to journal, and you need not do it every day or every week. Find a rhythm that suits you.
1. It can be helpful to divide your journal into particular sections that reflect:
2. If you enjoy art, use your journal to express your thoughts and feelings through pictures.
If you would like to explore additional spiritual practices for connecting with God, consider these books.
When the Soul Listens by Jan Johnson
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton
The Life You've Always Wanted by John Ortberg