The centerpiece of the e-mail was the issue of time. She said that many people have told her it is not necessary to spend a long time in prayer. She said the idea of warm up and cool down was helpful. She has also recommitted to her goal, an hour a day, with the assumption that she will not always make it. Her logic is 'better to come up short on an hour then it is come up short on ten minutes.' I agree. I would lilke to share some thoughts generated by my e-mail conversation with her.
My model for the Spiritual Life parallels my model for physical exercises.
- Do not feel compelled to do the same thing every day. You can change it up. Some days pray longer. Some days may be shorter but more intense. Some days focus on thanksgiving and praise. The key is being INTENTIONAL. Set up a schedule so that you are clear which days are which. Most people who work out will tell you that if my workout is based on how I feel, many days I would quit before I warmed up.
- The model. Physical fitness is strength, endurance, flexibility and speed. It is based on strength training, aerobics, stretching, nutrition, and rest. It is enhanced by variation in intensity and duration. People work harder with a partner and benefit from a guide/instructor/coach. I apply this to spiritual exercises. Sometimes literally, other times by analogy. (e.g. Bible = nutrition)
- Quiet time is important. My guess is God speaks in a whisper much of the time (see Elijah on Mt. Carmel). It is hard to hear Him if you are talking! Deep breathing and repeating a phrase might help. Things like "Holy, holy, holy Lord." A verse of scripture may be useful. On occassion do the 'Barney prayer,' look to God and say twenty times, consciously and out loud, "I love You, You love me." Enter into the reality of that!
- Posture matters. Face it, we are incarnate, body and soul. Kneel sometimes. Stand sometimes. Extend your arms outstretched and reaching and look up. Bow your head. Lay on the floor face down. Each physical position has a part in our prayer. Your body communicates to your soul. You can pray (as a sinner, a needy child, an exultant disciple, etc.) more readily when your posture reflects the prayer. [Experiment: Fold your arms across your chesst, frown, and in a low, angry tone say, "Glory to God in the Highest." NEXT, open your palms and extend your hands over your head. Smile. Eyes wide open. Sing, "Glory to God in the Highest." Now reflect on the difference between the two.]
- Pray outloud sometimes. Especially when we are alone, it is helpful to verbalize our prayer. I have spent many hours talking to God in our empty church. In all honesty, it seems more real. It is more like communication and less like thinking. I have had some people tell me, "people would think I was crazy talking out loud when no one is there." [re-read that last line and think about it a moment......] If you pray, thinking no one is there that is a problem. Pray like God is really there and really cares. He is. If He isn't then nothing really matters anyway.
- Use your imgination in praying with Scripture. Pretend you are there. Look at Jesus and the crowds. Ask him about what He is thinking and feeling. Make analogies to your world. Ask him to reveal His heart to you. I did an 8th grade retreat once and we did a guided meditation. One of the girls shared later that she was shocked to see Jesus wearing blue jeans. She had an encounter which blew her away. How cool is that?
Well, I have spent time doing this, now I need to go pray. I hope you see and hear God today!