For a variety of reasons in these last weeks I haved sensed a need to give more attention to the concept and practice of prayer. Perhaps like many of you, beginning a new year often causes one to reflect or re-evaluate one´s daily or weekly activities and approaches to life. In addition, for me, re-entering normal routines after a longer vacation seems much needed and yet somehow I can lack the motivation and desire to do so. With all these thoughts and emtions circling around me I feel the need to search for a more peaceful heart and the courage and faith to start anew – for me all the more reason to look to prayer.
We have a verse posted in our house, one that has been significant for me for several years – Isaiah 30:15, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (perhaps my OT version of Phil 4:6). To me prayer is all about repentance, rest and quietness before God and a show of trust in his ability to bring salvation (a very holistic and shaloam type salvation).
Last week I continued my reading of a book I had bought a couple of years ago called – “Prayer Saturated Kids; Equipping and Empowering Children in Prayer” by Cheryl Sacks and Arlyn Lawernece. My point is not necessarily to evaluate or endorse the book but to use some thoughts from one of the chapters to bring some framework to what I have been learning and appreciating about prayer in these past days (some of the bolded and italicized list below is adapted from one of the book’s chapters). And so I begin…
God Responds to Simple Faith
One thing I have been learning is that God does indeed answer prayer and does respond to our desire to put our faith in him. In these last weeks I have tried to be more conscious of looking to God in faith, and recognizing his responses to these efforts. For me, the first aspect to answered prayer is often God’s spirit providing a sense of peace and/or insight (as opposed to frustration, anger and worry, etc..) that is present when I truly come to God in repentence, trust and rest – regardless of how the rest of my request might be answered. But I am also thankful for concrete answers that can change the situations I had prayed for including more technical things like getting a visa process going that I had been anxious about or allowing my friend to find peace and reconnection in a relationship one day after we committed to pray in this regard.
Prayer is a Relationship with God
A number of years ago my most natural way to have a conversation with God was to go for prayer walks, just walking and talking, sharing my thoughts with God, trying to listen for his voice. With two kids and a more full schedule, now it seems these conversations happen more as I begin my day over a cup of tea or in taking a few extra minutes of silence before getting up (really both happen due to my husband’s willigness to often care for our kids before and during breakfast). I have yet to develop the discipline of a 6 am wake up but I am a work in progress. These moments especially helped me this past week to give my concerns about my volunteer work into his God´s hands and enter a new year of work more hopefully and confidently. We have also picked up again the process of praying for our day with the kids before we head out to work or school, a routine we hope instills a sense that God is with us in our days, and taking the time to simply say a few words before we head out is natural and important.
Praying God´s Word
In the past couple of years here in Chiapas the Lord´s Prayer has become a meaningful tool for me to use in prayer, especially in moments when I know my heart’s desire is to reach out to God but I´m not quite sure what to say. This well-known prayer includes elements of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication – the old ACTS acronym of the various modes of prayer I remember learning as a kid. While I find praying the words alone helpful at times, the structure also allows me to add additional thoughts to its different themes as God´s spirit brings them to mind. Hearing these thoughts in a spanish translation of the prayer has added a new richness to these phrases of scripture – as well in a spanish song form that Rick often sings has allowed Ezra to start memorizing it – Padre nuestro que estàs en los cielos...
Prayer Can Teach us Attributes of God
I think our approaches and attitudes about prayer are often affected by the concept we have of God. I am sure we can all admit that some truths and/or perceptions about God´s character come more naturally than others. In these past few years through experiencing answered prayers, two concepts of who God is continues to be built in my heart and mind. The first being that of “The Lord who sees” a name often written as Jehovah Jireh, relating to God´s ability to see and meet our needs. I think back to all that God has provided during this MCC term, perhaps those that stick out the most has been 1) connecting us with an amazing couple that continues to rent our house in Saskatoon, 2) helping our children adjust to this new culture, life, school and language and keeping them safe and protected in and out of our presence, and 3) for all the friends and colleagues that have made for a new and much appreciated community here in Mexico.
The other name/aspect of God that promonates in my mind these days is “The Lord of Peace – or Shaloam.” Daily I long to be able to trust and embrace God as my peace; the moments I listen to his voice have allowed me to choose hope and peace in times I would more naturally react in fear, pessimism or frustration. Yet still other moments, when the feeling of being out of control seems too strong, I panic, get discouraged, loose faith and the ability to remain peaceful.
The Importance of Repentance (my own addition to the list)
The importance of this aspect of prayer I have been learning from two different sources. The first through our home presbyterian church here in San Cristobal, whose liturgy regularily involves time given to a prayer of confession. These past weeks we have been encouraged to spend a time of silence on bended knee before a designated person continues a more communal confession. This is meant to be a humbling act, which indeed is the point but one that does not come naturally. I have seen both of my children go through struggles trying to build up the courage and desire to ask their sibling for what they know is a much needed request for forgiveness. And yet with practice and the increasing knowledge that the request will be given they are learning, and I think, appreciating the personal freedom that comes from simply admitting, “I was wrong, I´m sorry.” How much more can we be confident of God´s ability to cleanse and renew a humble and contrite heart. Secondly, often in this past year during a vocalization of the Lord´s Prayer I get stuck on the words – “forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are our debtors,” realizing with age how the first half of this equation weighs more than the latter.
And so I begin a new year with a desire to learn and commit more time in prayer, recognizing it is not a magical formula, as some prayer requests seem to be left unaswered or not answered in a way I had hoped, leaving me with a sense of disappointment or confusion. But when I take the time to think with gratitude of all the ways in which I know and sense God working in and through situations in my life, or in the lives of others, speaking to me with love and mercy, my faith is renewed and so I keep calling out with hope and a knowledge that he is listening.