Have you ever struggled with prayer? You may not be quiet as analytical as I have been with prayer, but maybe you have at some point wrestled with the purpose and the practice of it—even doubted its power to make any difference at all.
Let’s be honest. Prayer is a mysterious thing. But even those of us who are willing to embrace mystery often stumble over deterministic theology (everything is already settled), well-meaning sermons on prayer that only brought the ceiling closer to you, and marque slogans like “Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes you.” It’s enough to make you want to become a Buddhist.
About 6 or 7 years ago I entered into a new understanding of my identity in Christ. I had recently come out of vocational ministry and was burdened down with a work-centered faith. In many ways I suppose it was like hitting the reset button on all the things I thought I knew about Jesus, the church, my identity, and prayer. I needed it. Ever felt like that before?
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus, Matthew 11:28
If you want to experience the Lord afresh in intimate fellowship with the Father by way Jesus, then I think it’s necessary to see prayer as a way of resting in the Spirit. It’s amazing how often you can do this throughout the day if you’re intentional about it. Prayer requires intentionality.
“But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.” Jesus, Matthew 6:6
While we’re told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17), it would be wise to listen to Jesus talk about prayer as a personal retreat. The intimate times with the Lord enable us to pray continually from a renewed identity with sensitivity toward the Spirit.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Ever find yourself saying, “Was that you, Lord?” Maybe you’ve wondered, “Was that my thoughts, or was God speaking?” I’m willing to bet that you’ve been there before. We’ve all been there.
A few years ago I decided to make an intentional effort to move out of the “roaming” mode of prayer—that place where I’m skeptical about hearing from the Lord—like a bad connection. I became convinced that God speaks to us through our thoughts into our spirit.
When I finally let go of this paranoia and unhelpful skepticism, knowing that I certainly wasn’t having a conversation with myself, I then began to experience intimate moments with the Lord, and much more frequently.
I simply trusted that the Lord was listening, and that he always desires to speak to me. He is closer than a brother (Prov 18:24).
Meeting Jesus Around a Campfire
If I have a place to “go away” by myself and “shut the door” (so to speak), it’s my back porch. Over my fence looms a forest of pine trees. I enjoy creation around me as I sit next to my cast iron chimenea (Mexican-styled fire pit) at dusk. A cup of hot tea or coffee aids in relaxation.
I enter into a place of solitude within my soul, opening myself up to the Lord, as I stare into the fire and close my eyes… waiting… expecting.
I imagine the Lord there with me, I see him just as I might see the face of a loved one. The real difference is that I’m not simply visualizing or remembering. I’m creatively imagining for the sake of conversing with a real person. I’m not talking about delusions of grandeur here.
Since I haven’t seen Jesus with my own eyes, not yet anyway, I borrow the face of Christ played by Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ (2004). That may seem strange at first, but it’s perfectly safe and effective.
The first time I did this I imagined myself on a beach at dusk. I saw the Lord’s face through the fire as if he’s sitting across from me. Within myself I said, “Lord.” He looked at me and began speaking with, “My son, I love you.” Those are usually the first words I hear him speak to me in prayer.
While my mind often races and seeks to be interrupted by intruding thoughts or slip into “roaming” mode, I resist the distraction and focus on the Lord—remaining in the moment as long as I can.
If I will stay open to the Lord and allow my imagination to move freely with the Spirit, I have found that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a rush of words from Christ, who is the embodiment of the Father.
Jesus Wants to Get Personal
“Though most believers are comfortable speaking of a ‘personal relationship with Jesus,’ few concepts are so greatly celebrated and little experienced.” Wayne Jacobson
I feel that I’ve only begun to experience Jesus in a fresh way. I’m what you would call an aspiring Christian mystic. What I hope to inspire with this post is a courage to try a method of prayer that treats the Lord as a real person, and a dialogue between two beings. Don’t pray like the hypocrites.
What’s keeping you from a fulfilling prayer life? Where’s your back porch? Does your prayer life suffer because of bad theology? What about your ability to creatively imagine the Lord being present in your life?
Give it a try. Take some deep breaths, close your eyes, and see the Lord there before you in the power of a disciplined imagination.
D.D. Flowers, 2013.
For more on prayer, see the following books:
- Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom by Stanley Grenz
- Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Guyon
- The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
- Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard
- Seeing is Believing: Experience Jesus Through Imaginative Prayer by Greg Boyd