Unity


Moravian Church, Crest and moto, “Our Lamb Has Conquered, Let Us Follow Him”

I recently took up the spiritual practice of the Moravian Watchwords.

The Moravian Church is one of the oldest protestant denominations in the world, dating back to the Bohemian Reformation of the 15th century.  They fled Bohemia (western Czech Republic) to Saxony (southeastern Germany) in 1722 to escape religious persecution and settled near the town of Herrnhut.  From there Moravians have spread across the world.  Today the Moravian Church counts approximately 1.2 million members throughout Europe, North America, Africa, The Caribbean and Latin America.

Every year, for the past 290 years, the Moravian’s have published a devotional text known as The Watchwords.  A daily set of two verses, one from the old testament and one from the new testament, paired to provide a framework for meditation and prayer.  For three centuries millions of people have relied on the watchwords as their introduction to the scriptures and as a guide to prayer.  I started using them this summer after I finished my reading of the Psalms and when I heard that one my spiritual heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, credited them with keeping him grounded while in prison for opposing Nazi rule.

Today’s watchwords where from Isaiah 53:5 and John 11:51,52.

“By his bruises we are healed” and “Not for the nation only but to gather all children into one”.

It has become increasingly necessary for Christians all over the world to recognize that we are united by grace.  We gather, from all economic realities, all walks of life, all countries, and all political affiliations, at the foot of the cross to be washed in the blood of Jesus our hearts sustained by the water of life that gushes from his side and sent forth into the world as one humanity.  He took our punishment upon himself and healed us.  Caiaphas thought that by killing Jesus he could save the Jewish nation, (John 11:50) but he did not realize that Jesus’ death would save, not just the Jews, but all nations and make them one.

My childhood church used two hymn books.  One a traditional, red hard cover tome filled with all the old classic hymns from yesteryear.  The other a small, green paperback full of more modern folk songs and spirituals called the “Sing and Rejoice”, songbook.

One of the songs that I remember from “Sing and Rejoice” was called “Unity” by Gerald Derstine.  Derstine was a charismatic Mennonite pastor active from the 1950s to the 1990s who was well known in certain Mennonite circles for his evangelical teaching style and spiritual song writing.  He wasn’t a particularly prolific songwriter however but with a bit of digging I managed to find this version of Unity on YouTube as performed by the Mennonite Covenant Choral.  Close your eyes and let the words wash over you.

In these polarized times, Jesus, help us live in unity.

Just Breathe


The Power of Meditation (and Prayer) in Times of Stress

Let’s face it, we’re stressed.  I’m stressed, you’re stressed, we are all stressed.

I’m no stranger to stress.  As an entrepreneur I have had more than my share of sleepless nights and fretful days as I have navigated through a world that has very little appreciation for the sacrifice and dedication that it takes to open, build and run a business with no safety net, no guaranteed income and no long term security.  Most of my friends have government jobs or jobs with large corporations that offer significant long-term benefits and job security.  I grew up surrounded by teachers and people employed by fully funded NGOs.

I’ve worked in start-up firms or for myself since I was 19.

Sure, I’ve brokered some big deals in my day.  The kind that purchase a modicum of security for a few months or even a year, but the money inevitably runs out and I am always left searching for the next big thing.

In the era of COVID19 many of my closest personal friends, colleagues, associates, and clients are experiencing job related financial stress for the very first time and I’ve been fielding a lot of calls from a lot of stressed out people.

Earlier this week I created a resource page that I published on google docs to help people find the things they might need to get through these stressful times.

But today I decided to write about the one thing, regardless of the situation that everyone should do when stress begins to mount.

Breathe!

Focusing on your breathing is the first step of meditation in all its forms.

According to Healthline.com, meditation, regardless of religious context has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, control anxiety, promote emotional health, enhance self-awareness, lengthen attention span, slow age related memory loss, improve sleep, control pain, and decrease blood pressure.

In my book “Prayer School”, available on Amazon.ca or for free download I dedicated the entire first chapter to centering and opening your mind and heart for greater things.  Whether you are religious or not the practise of the breath prayer (or breathing meditation if you prefer) is a key step in calming your mind and centering your thoughts for a greater purpose.

So here is a quick breath prayer or breathing meditation exercise that I teach everyone who comes to me in financial stress. When pressures mount and it seems like you are losing control follow these steps to calm your mind before you act on your impulses.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

1 – Stop

2– Be Still

3 – Breath In for a count of 4

4 – Hold it for a count of 4

5 – Breath Out for a count of 4

6 – Repeat until you feel your heart rate slow

If it helps repeat a mantra as you breath in and out.  Personally, I like to breath in and out on Psalm 46:10, “Be still (in), and know that I am God (out).”  It helps me to remember that I am not alone in the world.  But the words don’t really matter, I had one friend who like to breath “I like (in), peanut butter sandwiches (out).” The point is, to take your mind and body away from whatever it is that is causing you stress in the moment.  Once your heart rate settles down, you can turn your focus to the problem at hand with more clarity and peace of mind.

This practise works to calm anxiety and stop panic attacks in their tracks, but meditation is also a great way to inject a general sense of calm into your daily life.  Many people have incorporated meditation into their lives as a regular practise at the beginning and/or end of each day.  I’ve been doing it every morning for decades.  That’s next level stuff though, for now, and while we all learn to navigate the world during and post COVID19, a simple breathing meditation can go a long way to help us all through these stressful times.

 

How do you deal with stress?  Let me know in the comments below.  And if you are having trouble dealing with financial stress as a result of COVID19, or any other reason, get in touch and let’s talk.  But first – breathe.

Lauren

 

 

FREE Prayer School E-book


For such a time as this

About two years ago I started to write a book on prayer.  What resulted was a 42-page booklet that I never felt confident enough to release publicly.  The plan was to continue to flesh out the ideas I had started until I had a complete book length project that I could release to the world.  That hasn’t quite happened, (long story).  In the meantime, I decided to put it up on Amazon with my other projects, but I never promoted it and I never included it on my books page.

Until now.

Not to be too opportunistic or to be lumped in with the “thoughts and prayers” crowd but it seems to me the world needs prayer now more than ever.  For seekers and new believers that are looking for answers, this could be a good place to start.

When I went on to Amazon today, I noticed that they are offering access to it for free with a Kindle Unlimited account or $7.84 for the paperback version.  As much as I would appreciate a few sales, for a limited time I’ve decided to make the pdf file available free to all comers.

Just to go www.laurensheil.wordpress.com/freeprayerbook and fill out the information form.  I will email you the file within 48 hours.  While you’re at it maybe include a little information about how you are dealing with the current COVID 19 crisis and what your experience has been with prayer during times of trouble.

If you a prefer a hard copy you can purchase it through my books page or directly from Amazon here:

https://tinyurl.com/tq66wl6

Here’s the back-cover description of the book that I wrote for Amazon, and the video message I just released on my YouTube Channel.

In 2016 I experienced a crisis of faith. In my darkest hour I cried out to God and heard a still small voice saying; “this then is how your should pray..” Thus began a daily ritual of prayer that has led me to a deeper understanding of God, community, peace and power. This little book is the framework of that prayer and forms the basis of a larger work slated for release in 2020.

Prayer School Conclusion


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.
Chapter Nine: Conclusion

Make my life a prayer to you
I wanna do what you want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers no compromise [Keith Green]

I grew up in a religious home.  It seems funny to me to say that because I never felt like church was an obligation.  It was just what we did.

My parents weren’t overtly religious. We lived our lives simply.  My sisters and I were taught to live with integrity, give when appropriate, be generous with our time and to go out of our way to be considerate of others and welcoming to strangers.  It was obvious to anyone that we were “church going folks” but we didn’t wear our faith on our sleeve, pound the Bible at every turn or try to convert anyone to our way of life.  When it came to evangelism especially we believed that God touches the hearts of mankind in his own time.  It is our job to make friends with people from all walks of life to be ready to disciple new seekers only when they were ready to hear what we had to say.

We called it Friendship Evangelism.

I remember my mother once confronting my father about his apparent lack of a structured prayer life.  She had always followed structured prayer and devotional time herself, working through various devotional books and guides but my father did not.  It was during a time when our community was going through some difficulty and we where being encouraged to make specific prayer request on behalf of the church.  So, my mother asked him one day why it never seemed like he prayed to God for anything.

His response was to quote 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing”.

At the end of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul lays out a list of final instructions to the church meant to keep them faithful to the teaching they have received.  To pray without ceasing in this list is not to be considered a continual conversation with God, that your whole life is to be about prayer but that your life should reflect your relationship with our father in heaven.

To pray without ceasing is to make your whole life a kind of prayer.  The list Paul gives here also includes things like teaching and warning others of the consequences for poor behavior, a version of the golden rule, rejoicing, testing prophesies and rejecting evil.  Prayer is just one piece of a much bigger discipleship puzzle.

My goal in writing this guidebook has been two-fold.  First off, I wanted to help my readers to begin to pray like Jesus.  Jesus gave his followers this prayer in part as a lesson in communal discipleship.  I have tried to show throughout this work aspects of both personal and intercessory prayer, praise, thanksgiving, submission, personal requests, confession, forgiveness and temptation.  Second, I wanted to lay the foundation for a life of teaching and discipleship.  The role of a Christ-follower in the broader community of believers and seekers is to be both teacher and student.

Though I rarely saw my father stop what he was doing and pray on his own he would often lead others in prayer.  His prayers were always careful to point out that he was doing so because Jesus tells us to and would almost always began in a similar fashion, “Father God, we come to you today as your son Jesus instructed us, to humbly acknowledge your presence in our midst and ask that you…”

I hope that I have been able to show even just a little of that spirit in the proceeding pages.  Jesus taught us to pray directly to the father with equal parts praise, submission, boldness, humility, conviction, and intercession.  As part of my on-going commitment to discipleship my prayer is that each of my readers will take from these pages a sense of God’s presence in their lives, a new understanding of prayer and the way in which God communicates with his creation and a commitment to “pray without ceasing” through the way they live out their lives.

The Lord’s Prayer serves as a framework for how we are to pray.  I have given you a structure to follow that if you use it will enrich your prayer life.  I personally have prayed this way for 15 minutes every morning for the better part of two years and I can say that it has changed me in ways I can’t even begin to explain.  Some mornings have been easier than others.  Some days I have a hard time thinking of anything to add and I’m done in less than 5 minutes, other days I keep praying well beyond the 15 minutes mark without getting past the first few phrases.  It’s not the time that counts, nor it is always necessary to get all the way through.  Most importantly, it’s about opening your heart to God to both listen and petition his spirit.

I hope I’ve inspired you to try it.  Jesus taught his followers to pray this way because it covers everything we should be praying for, both in our personal lives and through interceding on behalf of our fellow believers.

Happy praying – Amen!

 

 

Temptation


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.
Chapter 7:  Temptation

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. [Matthew 6:13]

By this point in our prayer we are just about ready to wrap it up.  We have already prayed for blessing, praised God’s sovereignty, asked for guidance and offered our assistance in bringing about God’s will and purpose in the world, made requests for our personal needs, asked for and offered forgiveness of our sins.  But before we sign off there is one more thing we need to address; that is the spiritual warfare that is going on all around us trying to get us to backslide, causing harm to both ourselves and others and negatively damaging God’s reputation in the world.

Now is the time for us to pray for God’s help in battling temptation and protecting us from everything that can harm us moving forward.

In December 2017 Pope Francis gave an interview to TV2000, an Italian Catholic TV channel in which he stated that the phrase “lead us not into temptation” was a poor translation of the 4th century Latin that most modern day biblical translations are based on.  Noting that the Latin is itself a translation of ancient Greek, which is also a translation from the Aramaic that Jesus and his original followers would have spoken, Francis suggested that God as our loving father does not test his children by throwing us into temptation as the traditional translation would lead us to believe.  Rather, according to the Pope, a better translation would be to say, “let us not fall into temptation”, which suggests that God can and will protect us from it.

Although I agree with Pope Francis on this point I was taught the prayer in the traditional way and just as I personally preferred to say trespasses instead of debts or sin in Chapter 6, I prefer to say “lead us not” here.  It is nothing more than a personal preference of phraseology, the intended meaning is the same.  I firmly believe, along with Pope Francis that God is not the one leading us to be tempted, rather he is protecting us from our temptations.

It has also been my experience that many people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the presence of evil in the world.  Or rather, if they do it is something that is to be bemoaned and lamented about but not much resisted.  “It is what it is”, or “what can you do?” are the phrases most often heard in the face of unexplained hurt, pain and destruction.  We are quick to praise God for our good fortune but no one, it seems is willing to blame the demonic forces of evil for what is clearly their doing.  It is as if we all live in the fictional world of Harry Potter where Satan is the cosmic Lord Voldemort, he who must not be named, because to acknowledge his name is to give him legitimacy and power.   Or more to the point to acknowledge evil is to admit it exists and to somehow reduce the sovereignty of God to the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  We live in a fallen world.  The presence of evil in the world is our doing, we invited it in and let it have dominion over us [Genesis 3].  Jesus refers to Satan as “the prince of this world” [John 12:31] and says that he has come to “seek and save the lost” [Luke 19:10].  Jesus’ main purpose in coming into the world was to save us from Satan.  And that is what we are requesting when we pray for him to “deliver us from evil.”  The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is in one sense a motivational speech given to soldiers as they ready themselves for battle.  But the battle they are preparing for is not a traditional assault on a physical enemy but one against spiritual forces of doubt, sin and psychological destruction.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. [Ephesians 6:12]

So, as we get ready to wrap up our prayer now is the time to pause yet again and pray specifically for God’s help in avoiding the many pitfalls that Satan will place in our path.  Pray that God will help us steer clear of the things we know we are weak to defend against as well as anything new he can cook up.  If we are prone to watching pornography when we are lonely, pray that God will bring people into our lives at just the right moment to distract us from our loneliness.  If we are prone to making bad decisions with money pray that God will give us wisdom to discern between our spending options. And finally pray that God will protect us from the effects of evil in the world over which we have little or no control.  Protect us from the Gang Bangers who frequent the crack den down the street or the tyrannical boss who wields his power like a megalomaniac.

God the father wants nothing more than to be our protector, our ever-present help in times of trouble [Psalm 46].  But like the prodigal father he will never impose his protection on us, we need to remember to ask for it.  Take a minute now and ask for his protection.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. [Matthew 6:13]

Confession and Forgiveness


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.
Chapter 6 – Confession and Forgiveness

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. [Matthew 6:12]

Depending on your translation this verse could read either, debts, sins or trespasses.  I originally learned it as trespasses and still say it that way today, but the sentiment is the same no matter how you say it.

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Sin separates us from God’s glory. It’s been that way since the very beginning.  Ever since the original sin God and mankind have been separated.  At times God has broken down the barriers and come to his people but mankind has had to create elaborate rituals designed to cleanse sinfulness from himself before he can approach God.  The entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was designed to provide this cleansing and remind mankind of his sin and unworthiness to approach God.

Jesus, as the final sacrifice blows that whole system up but not before giving us a hint of how we can maintain our intimacy with God long after he is gone here in his prayer.  Forgiveness of our sins is available to all of us, all we have to do is be willing to give forgiveness as freely as we have receive it.

But you can’t receive forgiveness if you don’t first confess.  And you can’t offer forgiveness if you don’t first examine the motives behind the wrong act.

This is very hard.

As we go through the list of wrongs that we have both committed and endured we must think about the people we have hurt and those who have hurt us.  While we don’t have to forgive their actions, we must be willing to look beyond the act itself and see the person behind it.  In the case of our own forgiveness we must examine our motives and resolve to find better ways to express our needs and desires without causing harm to anyone else.  And in the case of the wrongs committed against us we need to look deeper at the motivations of the perpetrator before we can forgive the person.

We can still hold people accountable for their choices, as we will likely be held accountable for our own.  We can expect to be asked to pay some form of restitution before we can fully restore a relationship so asking for restitution in return is generally acceptable but that cannot prevent us from freely forgiving the person who committed the act.

Forgiveness is not tied to restitution.  Even between us and God, when we ask for forgiveness God may still require us to do something before we are fully welcomed back into community and that’s okay.  We are still freely forgiven simply by confessing our sin and offering the same kind of forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

At this point in the prayer we break it down into it’s two component phrases and pause while we list off both our sins for which we need forgiveness and the wrongs which have been perpetrated against us.  If you find it too difficult to forgive the act that was done to you, focus instead on the person who committed it.  We may never be able to excuse some of the wrongs we have endured but we also can’t carry a grudge against a fellow image bearer of the divine.  God’s loving nature demands that we see the humanity in everyone, even those who commit unspeakable crimes.

It’s been said “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  When we start by examining the person forgiveness gets a little easier.  It’s also been said “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  When we start by examining the person, we sometimes start to see ourselves in a different light.

This is perhaps the hardest part of the entire prayer.  Confession and forgiveness requires a level of self-examination beyond anything we’ve done so far.  Don’t skimp on this aspect of prayer.  We are all sinners in need of a relationship with the savior.  The more honest we are with ourselves at this stage, the deeper that relationship will be.

 

 

 

The Kingdom


 

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 4 – The Kingdom

Your kingdom come

Your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven. [Matthew 6:10]

When we speak of God’s Kingdom it’s important to first remove ourselves from our present understanding of government and place ourselves in the context of the first century Jesus followers.

There are very few true monarchies left in the world.  Even Great Britain with it’s royal house of Windsor is no longer a kingdom in the historical sense.  Queen Elizabeth II has no real power, except as a tourist attraction.

But even thinking of monarchies in the European context as we in the west are tempted to do is inaccurate.  When Jesus speaks of a kingdom the concentration of power that would have entailed to his followers is unprecedented in modern history.  While the monarchies of Europe, had counsels of nobleman and commoners, which could influence the king, the Roman monarchy in Jesus day and the Babylonians before them, were ruled by a very tight circle wielding supreme power over every aspect of human life.  And no one was more powerful than the king.

At the time when Jesus first introduced the concept of God’s Kingdom to his followers, executive power was so heavily concentrated in the will of one person that the Babylonian Emperor was considered a god in his own right.  He even had priests administering sacrifices to him.  The Romans were only slightly less arrogant when they bestowed upon Caesar the title “Son of the gods”.  Clearly kingship in Jesus day was a far bigger deal than even the kings of the middles ages enjoyed.

When Jesus instructed his followers to pray for God’s kingdom to come it would have brought them all the way back to the first commandment.  “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods before me.” [Exodus 20:2].

Who has supreme power?  Not Caesar, God.  Who’s will should you seek after?  God’s.  And most importantly, where is God’s kingdom?

Many Christians over the ages have gotten caught up on that last point.  While Jesus appears to be saying that God’s kingdom is in heaven, i.e. somewhere else, what he is really doing is telling his followers to ask God to bring His kingdom to earth, here and know.  Elsewhere Jesus is asked by some of his followers to show them the kingdom so that they may go and get it, his response was that the kingdom is not something to be attained rather it is “within your midst”.  [Luke 17:21].

Therefore, the Kingdom of God is best understood as an interactive community of believers working together to bring about God’s will on earth, here and now. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done” etc, we are really praying that the community of believers comes together and works to bring the kingdom, God’s domain, into our immediate context.

So it is at this point in the prayer we pause again and ask God to bring us all together and bless our work in his name.  We pray specifically for the work and mission of our churches, and our ministries.  We pray that we can impact the lives of our neighbors, that we can serve the poor, protect the weak and influence the decisions made by our political leaders.  We pray for the victims of war and natural disasters and we pray that God would raise up and send out workers to complete the real world and mundane tasks that are entailed.

That last point is critical.  It’s not enough to pray that the work gets done.  We must also be willing to be part of God’s holy work force.  Otherwise we are just providing lip service and adding hypocrisy to an already desperate situation.  Richard Sterns, president of World Vision USA once said that his prayer was to become the hands and feet of God, to go were he was needed and complete the work that was set out before him.

“Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Pause now and ask God to bless our work, bring about change in the world, help the victims of war, poverty and natural disasters and show us the work he has for us to do to make it all happen.

 

Creating a Spiritual Rule of Life


I’m a creature of habit.  I love my routine.  If I had been born in a different time and place I would have been a monk, or a farmer, or maybe a passenger train conductor – “All Aboard!”

So, when I learned about the spiritual practice of a “Rule of Life” I was immediately intrigued.

According to the CS Lewis Institute

“A Rule of Life is an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. A Rule establishes a rhythm for life in which is helpful for being formed by the Spirit, a rhythm that reflects a love for God and respect for how he has made us. The disciplines which we build into our rhythm of life help us to shed the “old self” and allow our “new self” in Christ to be formed. Spiritual disciplines are means of grace by which God can nourish us. Ultimately a Rule should help you to love God more, so if it becomes a legalistic way of earning points with God or impressing others, it should be scrapped.”

The ancient monks understood the value of creating a Rule of Life.  They lived their lives to a rigid schedule of prayer, worship and work.  It was these monks who erected the first clock towers throughout Europe, many of which are still standing today, as a way to stick to their Rule of Life.

A Rule of Life is not just about prayer.  It is a whole life spiritual experience.  Buddhist and other forms of mysticism refer to “mindfulness” as a form of whole life meditation that encourages the practitioner to focus completely on the things they are doing while they are doing them and to block out extraneous thoughts and “noise”.  In this way it is said that a master of mindfulness is able to be fully present and free of distractions at all times.

While not quite as demanding as mindfulness, a spiritual rule of life helps to focus the mind at certain times of the day and creates space for a fuller experience of all aspects of life.

Over the last few months I have concentrated my personal devotional time on developing a rule of life for myself.  This rule has helped me to live a bit like a monk in my daily routine and deepened my relationship with God.

At the present time my rule consists of four specific activities that I do on a daily basis.  Like the old adage about placing large rocks, small stones and sand in a jar, these four activities are my largest rocks, if I do them consistently my life is in balance and I am able to be more focused and productive in everything else that I do.

Here is my personal Rule of Life

1 – Practice Sabbath

Every Friday night by 7:30, sometimes earlier, my computer, phone, email and social media are turned completely off.  They remain off for at least 24 hours.

During that 24 hour period I do nothing that is tied to my work.  I do not communicate with clients, I do not write articles or parts of my books, I do not develop financial plans and I do not study for any of the continuing educations courses that I need to complete for my licenses and certifications.  Instead I read for pleasure, garden, watch movies and spend time with my family and friends.  God created the sabbath after he had completed all of his work as the first “rock” in Adam’s rule of life and if it was good enough for Adam, it’s good enough for me.

2 – Read a Psalm

I begin each day at 7:00 am in quite contemplation by reading a Psalm.

The book of Psalms is 150 chapters long.  Each one except Psalm 119, can be read in less than 5 minutes.  Reading a Psalm a day you can get through the entire book twice in one year, even if you break 119 up over a few days.  Many of the Psalms follow a similar pattern, they begin with lament, move through a period of acknowledging God’s sovereignty and end in praise.  This pattern helps me to see that God is in control and reminds me that doubt and despair are natural emotions that God understands.

3 – Pray the Lord’s Prayer

After I have read a Psalm I immediately move into a structured walk through of the Lord’s Prayer.  My daily prayer is not a rote recitation of Matthew 6:9-13 or any other memorized version of a prayer.  Rather, I use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework for the things I say to God and for the way I listen for his response.

The way I see it there are eight phases to praying this way.  They are; Preparation, Community, Praise, Partnership, Personal Needs, Confession, Temptation and Worship.  A full explanation of this framework and how it forms my rule of life is beyond the scope of this post.  It is the subject of my current book project, tentatively titled “Prayer School” excerpts of which I have been publishing in this space off and on for the last few months, if you’re interested scroll back through the feed and look for titles related to Prayer School.

4 – Meditate on the Examen at points through the day and especially at the end of each day 

The Examen is a rule of life in and of itself that was first practiced by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the early 16th century.  Saint Ignatius is most famous as the founder of the Jesuit Order and the Examen is still practiced by Jesuits to this day.  The Jesuits are encouraged to pause at regular intervals throughout the day and contemplate one or more questions related to their relationship with God.

Once again, this meditation is not meant to be a recitation of the specific questions but rather a framework for the thoughts I try to conjure up as I take a moment or drift off to sleep at night.

Traditionally the Examen consists of three questions.

“Where am I experiencing feelings of joy and peace?”

“Where am I connected with God?”

“Where am I experiencing sadness, apathy and a sense of disconnection from God?”

I am convinced that God speaks to me in my dreams.  Although I reserve the right to think on these things when ever the spirit moves, by making a conscious effort to contemplate the Examen as I drift off to sleep God has answered me in some powerful ways through my dreams.  I wake up each morning refreshed and ready to start again.

 

So that’s my rule of life.  What’s yours?  Do you have a “rule” that you follow that helps you get closer to God?  I’d love to hear about it, tell me your rule of life in the comments below…

The Community


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 Two

This then is how you should pray:

Our father in heaven, [Matthew 6:9a]

The opening line of the Lord’s Prayer makes it crystal clear that prayer is not to be done in a narcissistic manner.  The very first word of the prayer points to and acknowledges the fact that the spiritual life is not a life of isolation but a life that must be lived out in community.

When we pray to God as our father we are simultaneously acknowledging that He is my father, your father and the father of all who call upon His name.    It is at this point, after we have spent time in meditation preparing our hearts for prayer and getting close to God that we begin by recognizing His sovereignty over our lives, the lives of the people in our community and the lives of all those who call Him father.

When we begin our prayer this way there are three phases to these opening moments.

Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing me.

Around the beginning of this century, as the tech bubble burst, the phrase Ponzi Scheme hit mainstream media and was used to describe the world’s largest energy conglomerate and terrorists flew airplanes into two of the world’s tallest office towers, there was a movement within some religious circles to re-examine an obscure prayer from deep inside the genealogical records of Israel.  The prayer of Jabez, as it is known, appears in 1 Chronicles 4:10:

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

I first learned of this prayer and this movement at a particularly low point in my life.  By praying specifically for God to bless me, enlarge my territory, (which in modern terms would be to pray for prosperity), for protection and comfort, my mind was also drawn to instances when God was already doing this for me.

It’s okay to pray for your needs.   It’s even okay to pray for the desires of your heart.  God granted Jabez his request because he asked.  Some commentators have also suggested that the last line in the Hebrew suggests that not only will Jabez be free from experiencing pain but also from causing pain to anyone else.  Therefore; God granted his request because it contained some other centeredness.

Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing them.

The term intercessory prayer is used to describe a prayer meant to intercede in the lives of others.  When you say to someone in your community that you will pray for them what you are really saying is that you will leverage your time in conversation with God to intercede on their behalf.

I always begin this portion of pray by thanking God for bringing certain people into my life and for the blessing that they have been to me.  I then ask specifically for the fulfillment of whatever needs they have, those that they have brought to my attention and those that they have kept private.

Jesus modeled this for us in John 17:6-26 when he prayed for his disciples.  He begins by thanking the father for them.

Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. [John 17:6]

He then goes on to describe the troubles they will experience because of him and requests that God give them protection and strength.

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. [John 17:11b]

By turning my focus outward, to my community I become both thankful for the intimacy of my interpersonal relationships and aware of my role in the lives of others.  I am now ready for the last phase of the opening of my prayer time.

Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing us.

The world-wide community of believers is a family.  God is our spiritual father and through our relationship to Him are all connected.  It is through this familial connection that I can thank God for the blessings in your life and intercede on your behalf, even when I don’t know you personally or have any knowledge of your specific needs.

Jesus modeled this too in John 17 when he prayed:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, [John 17:20-21a]

This also sets us up for a deeper prayer for God’s heavenly kingdom which comes later.  For now I simply pray thankfully for the world-wide community of believers and ask for blessing and intercession into the lives of my brothers and sisters whom I may never meet.  I pray for their safety, their health, their prosperity and the impact of their ministries on their local communities.

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So here in the opening phrase of The Lord’s Prayer we have thanked God for all that he has already given us, requested blessing and provision in our lives, thanked God for the people he has brought into our circle and interceded for their needs and thanked God for the world-wide family of believers and interceded for the needs of those half a world away whom we my never meet but with whom we share a connection few outside the faith will ever comprehend.

 

Preparing Our Hearts for Prayer


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]

So, how do we prepare our hearts for prayer?

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.