I have now been a Christian for exactly 20 years, since the year I finished high school. Since then I’ve been schooled in the Bible and devoted myself to understanding it, but until a few ago I never really understood the power of prayer. How long it has taken me to grasp it! 14 long years it took me … I am often surprised that I am still a Christian given what a lousy pray-er I was. At my former churches I was told what prayer was and though it was routinely practised, more often than not it was done because it was something Christians ‘just did’, rather than because they got to do it and had power behind it. Prayer in some situations and in some circles was viewed at as an optional extra, something that was done when all other efforts failed; and Quiet Times (or Devotions, time where a person connects with God by reading Scripture and interacting with prayer and by various means) were viewed this way in particular. In fact, I cannot remember many of my former church friends discussing their one-to-one Quiet Times as being a core part of their journeys with God or moments where they were significantly revitalised in their spirits. (More often than not, time with other Christians, conferences, church, and other activities involving being in the presence of other believers).
That’s not to say that they didn’t do QTs, but their silence about them was quite revealing: either they weren’t done very often; or they weren’t done properly; or they yielded no insights or revelations; or they ultimately meant little to the people doing them, especially if they were done out of a sense of duty. I was very much in this camp and eventually I stopped doing them, and the fact that so few others around me (seemed) to not do them either reinforced my decision to foresake them. It wasn’t always that way for me: back in 1999-2001, at Mid-Year Conference of Campus Bible at the University of New South Walwa, students were encouraged to do QTs and we were shown how to do it. A pity it isn’t re-inforced in a lot of fellowships.
Recently I’ve been getting back into them and have made some very helpful, albeit dramatic, changes to the way that I do them. Rather than squeezing in the Bible when I can (like on the train after a long day at work when I’m feeling knackered and can only keep the eyelids open with toothpicks and have the enthusiasm of a salted slug). These are things that I have found helpful (no hard an fast rules, just helpful suggestions) and have dramatically re-shaped the way I connect with God. You can see most of them in the picture to the left, and each one has a good reason for being there:
- Choose a quiet location – as quiet as possible- where there are no distractions. Cafes, generally no because there are people and conversations about. On the train, maybe not. Maybe sit in a park or a bench somewhere where you can sit and just take in the goodness of God’s creation. Not a place close to work or where they are others who may recognise you and interrupt. I sometimes like to connect with God at home, but with it being so messy even when the kids are out and there’s no noise, my mind wanders.
- Give the time completely to God. Believe it or not, if you switch the phone off and heaven forbid if you lose it and don’t allow it to intrude your life, the world will not fall apart! Shocking, I know. Tell Facebook to go away … (Consider: If the prophet Daniel, a very busy, high-paid administrator of the pagan king Nebuchadnezzer could face Jerusalem 3 times a day and turn off his iPhone to connect with his Maker, is it really not a possibility for you and I?) This is the same God who connected with the figureheads of the Bible (Moses, Elijah, David, Solomon, Abraham, Adam and Eve, Isaiah, Jesus, Holy Spirit, the apostles) as well as many martyrs (Cranmer, Jonathan Edwards, George Mueller, Bunyan, Spurgeon, etc) don’t you think he wouldn’t want to talk to the likes of you and I? So talk!
- Ask God how He made the mountains and not just the usual religious stuff. Be prepared to talk about anything and everything and make it real. Kids like to ask their dads about their work. If a kid has a dad who is a television producer, he may say, “Dad, how do you get the images from the camera onto the TV?” So ask God the cool, funky stuff. “So, how did you send manna from heaven? Could I try some?” or “Man! (Even though God isn’t.) How on earth did you manage to be so kind to that screwball Balaam in the book of Numbers?” or “What did it look like when the Roman Empire fell?” It’s important in all this to be respectful and presume not to take liberties or make it the only prayers, but this kind of thing is natural and has its place. Even if you don’t get an answer, it’s so cool to ask!
- Read the Scriptures and pray through them. LOTS can be said about this, but to read Scripture and to apprehend it- not merely comprehend it- by personalising, owning, and emotionally engaging with it. The Bible is God’s perspective on yourself and you’ll need that because our hearts are sick (Jer. 17:9) and often don’t even understand themselves. So being God-centred is critical. Don’t allow emotions or even your reasoning skills, as sharp as they are, to deceive because they can (Prov. 3:5-6). Even the most seasoned and well-experienced ministry workers get things wrong (e.g. Billy Graham) so don’t kid yourself; get yourself in it and enjoy it! And even if it is a challenging part of Scripture like Leviticus and Deuteronomy (which can feel like watching wet paint dry), ask God to keep you going and reveal His life-changing insights. After all, the Torah (‘legal’ books of the Bible) are actually wisdom lit (Deut. 4:6). As I discovered, even the genealogical lists of the Bible can reveal the most surprising insights about God’s character! Use the Psalms as a model to pray through: I have never been disappointed in doing so!
- Pour your heart out to God. It says it right there in Psalm 62:8 (“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us”). Engaging with God is not (meant to be) purely intellectual, and if it is for you then you need a re-evaluation. We’re not robots or fembots: we’re people and people have emotions which are core parts of their humanity. Use them as a means of connecting with God and if you need help doing it, Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening Devotions are just what the Good Doctor ordered. Bring everything to Him: good, bad, ugly, beautiful, terrifying, and name it for what it is. Don’t know what to say to God? Tell Him. Angry with God, maybe even hate Him? Tell Him. Be careful how you speak and don’t take liberties or be profane, but be frank and don’t hide anything. Why shouldn’t you? He knows it anyway but wants to hear it from you and have a relationship. And if we don’t tell Him about the stuff in our lives, how can He help or heal if we don’t TELL Him?
- Remember that in prayer God will talk back! He doesn’t just sit and listen as Dr. Freud might, nodding his head and umm-ing and aah-ing. So let your words be measured (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3) and don’t ramble. As I have learned the painful way, God is untamable. He’s the wild God and trying to domesticate Him and assuming about Him will only make Him wilder, in a way. So be prepared. And it may be a surprising answer. If we pray vengeance against another, be careful because He may actually answer the prayer, so it’s wise to be careful circumspect about what we ask for. If something is spoken to your mind during prayer, test the spirits and make sure it really is God speaking. Test whatever you hear with the Word. Yet God will and does speak to His people as we would with our everyday friend so expect and open up to it, as disorienting as that can often be (Ex. 33:11).
As I have in my picture, I like to make QTs interesting and fully engage myself. I don’t use all the things all the time, but they help:
- I have my Bible (NKJV or ESV), with pen and highlighter to note anything that really strikes me.
- I have a small brown notebook to jot down anything that God has to say to me. When I look back on it, it’s amazing what He has been saying and doing: He never misses a thing. I also like to write down prayer points and answered prayer. That REALLY opened my eyes to the power of prayer in both small and big things! I also jot down powerful stuff that is spoken to me in church.
- In my black notebook (under the small brown one) I have written down some awesome songs and hymns that I have come to love and speak to my heart, such as Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah and Count Your Blessings. I also have found and posted them here on this blog so I can listen to them if I’m away from home. They open my heart and speak truth into it and gives me models of how to engage with God because, like a sheep, I’m prone to forget.
- I draw pictures with crayons and coloured pencils! I also underline and highlight in my Bible with these coloured tools, in order to bring the Word alive. I portray visually and artistically what God has been showing me which helps me to apprehend, own, and emote His Word. In this picture I drew as many things that I could of Hebrew Bible stories, like the building of the temple and the Yam Suph (Red Sea) crossing. I sometimes even draw pictures of God loving me and being with my family. When I look back on them they have a funny way of speaking to my heart and keeping me safe. I don’t quite know why, but that’s ok ><
- A cup of tea! Twinings is 10/10.
I wanted to share these things because they have helped me a lot and they can probably help others. I like to get creative with prayer because they help me to be real and to engage deeply with God, but when doing so I keep in mind that I need to speak with God on His terms. May it help you, reader
God bless, Pastor Haydn. ^^