Often our own ideas on prayer eventuate the biggest hindrances to our prayer life. Sometimes prayer becomes more of a performance, as we work so hard at doing everything “right” so God hears us and we don’t offend Him in the process. I know people who struggle tremendously with the wording of their prayers, the topics of their prayers and the order in which they pray for everything. In general I believe we complicate prayer, removing the joy of communion with our Heavenly Father. Which is why I prefer a mindfulness approach to prayer.
Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! Where we learn some easy ways to be more present “in the moment” at our jobs, in our homes, with our families and friends.
Learning to recognize God and what He has for us in each divine moment He offers. We acknowledge the belief that God is with us always.
We confess His presence is available to us, lifting our spirit and helping us with power and grace. Learning the art of “stillness” so we can hear His voice and view ourselves, others and our surroundings through His eyes.
why do we pray?
Prayer is a spiritual discipline of obedience expected of every Christian. Next to fasting however, it remains the most neglected. The large majority of Christians consider prayer an important part of their walk with God, but admit they struggle maintaining consistent times of prayer. Likewise most Christians understand the “why” of prayer, but few agree on the “how”.
Undoubtedly, prayer is a privilege; the privilege of speaking with the God of the Universe “face to face”. When Jesus purchased our redemption, He simultaneously opened the way for us to enter into the Father’s Presence to commune with Him. Boldly approaching the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) is our precious privilege. At times focusing excessively on the mechanics of prayer we lose sight of the benefits and purposes of prayer.
Purposes of Prayer
- Obedience. Jesus taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:5-13, and Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray “without ceasing”.
- Communion . When we pray we grow closer to God, knowing Him more deeply.
- Comfort. Philippians 4:6 reminds us we find relief from anxiety when we bring our cares to God in prayer.
- Supernatural Power. We seek God’s providential care for our needs and the needs of others. We seek His wisdom and direction.
- Praise. We enter God’s Presence with praise for who He is and what He has done.
- Thanksgiving. We offer words of gratitude for every good and perfect gift from the Father.
In essence, the purpose of prayer encompasses our heart attitude before God; in honesty revealing our deepest needs, longings, sinful struggles, failures and emptiness. Sitting completely vulnerable before Him, we then invite Him to speak into and fill that emptiness with Himself.
The problem with prayer
Despite understanding the purposes for prayer and contemplating the many benefits, I transparently admit prayer is a problem for me. My prayer times often feel like I am talking to myself rather than to God. Either I blather about anything and everything or I desperately plead into a black abyss which seems to echo my own voice back to me. Prayer feels hard. As I reflected on my seasons of prayer, all I saw was a dreadful failure. Despite reading numerous self help books on “how to pray”, I concluded I missed the spiritual prayer gene.
One day, while working through a journal exercise exploring unhealthy coping mechanisms, I noticed a connection I overlooked previously. Early legalistic influences left me with rigid rules for proper prayer, resulting in a performance approach in my prayer life. Essentially I “performed” for God whenever I prayed. Prayer became no more than another achievement I needed to “get right”. Ruthlessly endeavoring to prove my worth before God, by ensuring I prayed the right way for the right things in the right order. Clearly, the problem with my prayer life was the same problem I encountered in other areas of my life: I lacked authenticity.
We Don’t Know How to Pray
The further problem with prayer is we don’t know how to pray. Romans 8:26-27 states this in plain fact. We sometimes hear these verses cited as applying to circumstances when we are too overwhelmed with the magnitude of what we face, words fail us. The context of these verses is otherwise. God knows we cannot pray as we ought to pray, He gave us the Holy Spirit as intercessor, searching our hearts and communicating to God our deepest needs.
Often, we lack authenticity in our prayers because we come to God “dressed up” as we think He expects. We bring only acceptable prayers for others, social situations or corporate church needs. Sin’s mention occurs only after we clean it up, and stand repentant, rarely if ever do we speak about desires of our hearts unless we deem them “appropriate” spiritual things of desire. No wonder our prayer times seem filled with distractions and “stray thoughts”. Because it is those same distracted thoughts that reveal the true issue of our hearts. Thoughts we consider sinful, trivial or inconsequential to God, and we promptly ignore them. All the while missing the point; the Spirit is searching our hearts, bringing to the surface what the Father wants us to know about ourselves, and subsequently bring to Him.
mindfulness and prayer
This is exactly where a mindfulness approach to prayer is most useful. Mindfulness encourages a slower, intentional time of reflection in the present. By increasing self awareness, mindfulness tunes our hearts to present emotions, thoughts and physical sensations. Contributing to a heightened sensitivity of the Spirit’s leading and God’s Presence. Approaching prayer from this space, we learn releasing performance mentality increases intimacy with the Father, which is His greatest desire for our relationship.
Authentic prayer is rooted in love and honesty; “deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7) our deepest, truest selves calling unto God that we might be heard, known, seen. If we spoke our truth in prayer instead of what we “think” God expects, then we would experience what God intended for prayer. I used these two mindfulness activities as a way of realigning my prayer life and untangling false perspectives on prayer.
Mindfulness Techniques For Prayer
Because we often approach prayer from “our” agenda, we tend towards a limited time with “set rules”. This looks like a prayer list we must get through, a few personal concerns and gratitude items. Naturally this varies depending on our season of life, pressures and trials, but we generally have a patterned approach to prayer. For each mindfulness exercise, carve out a block of undisturbed time for meaningful interaction, no lists, agenda items, praise or gratitude requirements.
seasons of prayer journal exercise
Find a quiet undisturbed space. Take some time to transition from your previous task by doing a Mindful Check In. Full instructions are in this post, but basically sit quietly with your eyes closed; engage in mindful breathing for around five minutes. I compiled a “Calming Techniques Guide” which includes several proven breathing techniques. You can pick up your copy for FREE below.
While breathing, notice any tension in your body and any emotions present. Don’t judge or engage the emotions, simply notice their presence and how they feel in your body.
- Once you feel settled, think about the various seasons of prayer in your Christian life. In your journal jot down each season. For example, times when prayer felt hard or empty and times when you felt connected to God.
- Include any emotions you associated with those seasons. Anger, frustration, doubt, peace, comfort or joy for example.
- Ask God to reveal your heart regarding prayer. Do you tend towards “performing”, hiding from God, controlling outcomes, or a more genuine communion. These generally depend on your season in life, but we all have a specific way in which we approach God in prayer.
- Lastly, Ask God for help in discerning wrong ideas and habits of your prayer life and how you can move forward in a deeper communion in prayer with the Father.
desires of the heart exercise
For this exercise grab your Bible and keep your journal nearby. As above, secure time in an undisturbed place, and transition from your previous task by sitting quietly, eyes closed. Engage in mindful breathing for about five minutes, allowing thoughts to come and go without dwelling on them. Then gently turn your thoughts towards God, and enter His Presence telling Him you want to be with Him. From your Bible, pray through Psalm 27:4-5, and notice what happens in your heart.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.Colossian 4:2
- Opening your heart to the Lord, be watchful. What emotions are evident?
- Can you sit with the Lord in silence? If comfortable with the silence, praise God and offer gratitude.
- If your mind wanders, don’t resist or control it. Share the exact thoughts coming up with the Lord, He sees and knows our thoughts and true feelings better than we do.
- If your mind continues to wander, consider if you feel uncomfortable in the quiet place, and unable to “control” outcomes, so you move in your mind to things you can control.
- Notice any feelings of helplessness or faithlessness that your prayers are heard.
- Ask Him, “What is the desire(s) of my heart? “What does my heart treasure more than being with you?” Don’t fear the truth, allow it to free you.
- Allow God to continue to reveal the deep loves of your heart apart from Him. Offer them to Him as a sacrifice, taking your hands off of them, choosing instead satisfaction in God.
- Bring to mind Romans 8:1 reminding yourself of God’s great love for you, and close in gratitude.
Another method of mindfulness prayer is using centered prayers. Prayers centered on specific themes, focusing our hearts towards the Father purposefully increasing intimacy. I designed these Lenten themed prayers for you as a way of focusing on God more intimately this season.
a mindfulness approach to prayer
Using a mindfulness approach to prayer, helped me enter God’s Presence more aware of my emotions, thoughts and poor prayer habits. Discovering my inclination towards using my prayers as a form of controlling outcomes, changed the way I petitioned God. Instead of telling Him how I wanted things, or putting my own “spin” on things so He could see it “my way”, I rested in gently laying my petitions at His feet. My awareness tuned into times I hid my thoughts and emotions from God out of shame, allowing me the freedom of showing them to Him so He could heal and comfort me.
An increased awareness of God’s Presence resulted as I employed the mindfulness activities above, which I often missed using my own approach to prayer. As I sat with Psalm 27, offering my heart to the Lord, the gentle reassurance of His Presence coaxed me towards deeper authenticity with each session. The first time I pursued God this way in contemplative prayer, the Holy Spirit pulled negative emotions of anger, resentment, bitterness and betrayal to the surface that I held towards God. Though I was shocked, God was not, and as I placed each one in His hands, I felt the healing begin.
While I still look forward to improved times of prayer, I am captivated with the change in my relationship with God in prayer. Rather than performing for God, attempting to control God, or hiding from God, I rest without fear in His perfect love.
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