The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Prayer School – Part One
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; [Psalm 46:10a]
God can do anything and the way in which he speaks to us, and hears us, is no exception. But I have found, in my years of faithfully listening and speaking to God is that he operates best in the quiet and stillness of our minds. Therefore, it is fitting that at the beginning of our discussion of prayer we begin by calming and quieting our minds.
All throughout scripture we see examples of people encountering God when they are alone with only their thoughts. Moses was alone on the mountain when he encountered God in a burning bush. Elijah heard the “still small voice” of God after a loud and violent storm had passed by. David wrote most of his Psalms while alone and running from his enemies. And who could forget the example of Jesus himself both at the beginning of his ministry, spending forty days alone in the wilderness, and on the night that he was arrested walking alone through the garden of gethsemane.
Prayer happens best when we are quiet and alone. Jesus even went so far as to command that we pray privately.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:6]
In recent years spiritual teachers, self-help gurus and psychologists have popularized the concept of “mindfulness”. According to Wikipedia, mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment and can be honed through a period of meditation. “Living in the moment” is then the process of taking that focused period of mediation and expanding it into the way we live our daily lives.
Mindfulness has been proven to be an effective form of therapy for those recovering from addictions, anxiety and trauma. In my own experience, mindfulness has been very helpful as a form of therapy in dealing with my own life history but is not prayer.
Preparing our hearts for prayer is a bit like mindfulness meditation but instead of focusing our minds on the present moment we focus our minds on God. As Paul wrote to the church in Colosse;
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [Colossians 3:2]
I like to start with a bible verse in mind that helps me to focus on God. A couple of my favorites have already been mentioned, Psalm 46:10, Colossians 3:2 but here are a few others that work just as well and you may have others that work for you. Exodus 20:2-3, Isaiah 41:13, Isaiah 43:3, Psalm 23:1, Matthew 16:15-16.
It’s helpful if the verse can be broken into a couple of phrases. Speak, or think, the first phrase as you inhale and the second phrase as you exhale. Repeat this process as many times as it takes to calm your mind and focus on God. For me it seems that the optimal number is four but if I am feeling extra stress or am otherwise distracted it can take a bit longer.
Once you have calmed your mind and focused your attention on God you’re ready to pray and open I dialogue with him. Speak to him as you would a wise friend and listening to what he says.