Growing-up in church I heard an occasional sermon on prayer and it basically was centered on well known scriptures like:
- “Ask and you shall receive,”
- “Give us this day our daily bread,” and
- “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask for bread, will he give him a stone?”
Prayer was basically asking God for things and it was obviously very biblical. If my prayers were not answered I was told that I needed to pray more and to pray more faithfully and fervently. So I went through several versions of doing just that; but each time I doubled down on this kind of praying, something told me there was something more.
Decades later, as I’ve had lots of time to reflect on and experiment with praying, I’ve realized that there IS another side to prayer that I never heard much about. I now look at prayer as having two major dimensions: Prayers of asking, yes, but also prayers of presence.
There are similarly many scriptural passages that call our attention to the prayer of presence, such as:
- “Abide in me and I in you,”
- “Pray without ceasing,” and
- “I meditate on you in the night watches.”
Another of my favorites is Revelation 3:20, which draws the beautiful image of us opening the door to God and him coming in to have dinner with us. What illustrates presence better than have a wonderful meal together?
So I began to realize that when I focused more on praise, thanksgiving and meditation in my times of prayer, I was actually cultivating these soul-touching moments in the presence with God. In these forms of prayer, I wasn’t really asking for anything except his presence. There are several others forms of prayer that fall into this category of prayers of presence: confession, lamentation, contemplation as well as observation of nature.
ENTERING INTO PRESENCE
This is a very subjective matter. It’s different for everyone, but there are some commonalities that can help get us started:
- Create a time and place of calm, free of distraction and activity.
- Cultivate the moment by slowly passing through moments of praise, gratitude and confession.
- Allow this to flow into moments of silence. It is possible to take advantage of inspiring texts or beautiful scenery, alternating between them and silent reflection and openness.
- Take advantage of sensorial signals such as lit-candles, a special chair, a body position or gesture. Many find a simple verbal phrase, mantra or melody helpful to prolong the moment.
Whatever this moment looks like for you, what is most important is that this takes practice. It is much like exercising a muscle or learning a musical instrument. It takes time, effort, patience and repetition, but the rewards are very much worth it. It will literally change your life.
ADVANTAGES OF PRESENCE
This has obviously changed the way I pray, but it has also changed the way I think theologically. For instance:
- If you ask me if I believe in God, my response would not just be I “believe” in him, but I would say I “know” he exists because I often feel his presence.
- I’ve come to realize that his presence is quite often the answer to my prayer when I ask for things. If I ask for wisdom, he responds by saying, “I AM wisdom.” If I ask him to calm my anxiousness, he say, “I AM peace.” He doesn’t just give us an injection of wisdom or peace; when we are in his presence, we have those things.
- When we focus on cultivating his presence, we are not fretting over our past scars and failures, nor our fears and worries of the future. These things can overwhelm our emotions and cripple our lives. In these brief moments of presence, we are deeply known and loved; we feel forgiven and healed; we are inspired and motivated.
A few years ago I heard a BBC interview with William Young, author of The Shack. He related a dream, where he woke up in the middle of the night as if he were in an amazing waterfall of creative ideas. After about an hour of ideas washing over him, he had the thought that he should get up and write this stuff down…then the ideas stopped.
The take-away for us in this story is that we are conditioned to see inspiring moments as unique events where we need to grab as much from them as we can, a zero-sum gain universe. Alternatively, we should see them as moments where we can learn, with some practice, to return there often. We CAN discover the path through the jungle of our lives back to the refreshing waterfall and come as often as we would like. We CAN discover how to return to the presence of God throughout the day, to bath in the waterfall of the I AM: of his peace, his joy, his love, mercy, patience, goodness, justice, kindness, wisdom, wholeness, beauty, faithfulness, healing, gentleness, self-control, calmness… .
Bio: David Brazzeal, a Canadian/American presently residing in France where he is a church planter, online professor, writer, composer and an occasional labyrinth creator. His basic mission is to introduce his creative friends to deeper spirituality, and his spiritual friends to heightened creativity.
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