“I have been praying the Lord’s Prayer with special intention for Ali. It is such a wonderful vehicle for intercession if one puts it in the third person instead of in the first: ‘That the Father’s name may be hallowed in him’ ‘That His Kingdom come and His will be done’ ‘That he may have his daily bread and the Father’s forgiveness; That he may not be led into temptation but may be delivered from the evil one’ ‘For in Him is the Kingdom and the power and the glory.'” Diary 12 December 1925
How do we pray when don’t know what to pray? Where do we begin? This was the dilemma Lilias faced as she worked day after day with Ali who, along with his brother, was assisting her in translating her Sufi book (The Sevenfold Secret) into the Arabic dialect distinctive to the people of Tozeur in the Southlands. They gathered at her bedside where she was confined even as she undertook, with their help, the tedious task of finding the best phrasing to make this work most accessible to them. As they labored together, they helping her with just the right thought or word ( not “too deep” or “too heavy”) she saw this, likewise, as a unique opportunity to encourage and nurture these “sons of sunshine” in their fledgling faith.
Her heart was particularly heavy for Ali and the challenges he faced that seemed beyond her knowing in how to advise. Then she seized upon the Lord’s Prayer as a guide for her prayers on his behalf. After all, this was Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ request: “Teach us how to pray.”
Prayer, by definition, is conversation with God. Implicit in “conversation” are two fundamental elements: 1) It is a two-way communication; 2) it presupposes a relationship. Mother Teresa offered a simple and lovely description of prayer:
Prayer is simply talking to God.
He speaks to us: we listen.
We speak to Him: He listens:
A two-way process:
Speaking and listening.
Yet it isn’t always easy to get the conversation going, especially as we can not look God in the eyes or see a response on a physical face. We “hear” no audible voice. Spirit to spirit communication requires a kind of concentration that does not necessarily come naturally. While many tools are suggested, if you will, to start the conversation, I often find them more conversation stoppers than starters. But if we agree that prayer is, indeed, a two-way conversation with God, what better way to start the conversation than with Scripture: God’s words.
Praying the Scriptures. Lilias found praying the Lord’s Prayer with intention for another to be a conversation starter, using it as a framework for prayer for others – or oneself. Others have suggested “praying the Psalms” noting the range of emotion and thought unleashed therein providing ample words of expression! Some have made a study of the prayers of the Bible (over 650!) choosing prayers that express their particular concern or need.
One traditional approach to cultivating conversation with God, “Lectio Divina,” is the deliberate practice of “praying the Scriptures” in small portions – often from the Gospel accounts of Christ. The idea is to take a short passage and read and meditate fully upon it, digest it, as it were, until one senses the very heart of that reading. Take that portion of Scripture that has touched you and turn it into prayer. Repeat this process – section by section – throughout the given passage of Scripture. The challenge is to be sensitive to how God’s Spirit is guiding ones spirit into some new understanding or experience of His holy presence. . . to be open to any invitation from God to take action in a particular area of ones life.
For many years my attempts to set aside a time for communion with God was more an exercise in frustration or disappointment than a blessing. Then I read a chapter about meditation on Scripture in Paul Tournier’s Adventure in Living. Since then I’ve become aware of many books with the same idea – but this is how it played out for me. With my Bible, daily/monthly planning calendar, notebook, a cup of coffee, I settle in for a time of Bible reading. I ask questions about the reading: What is the main point? What do I learn about God? What insight am I given into myself or a life situation? What is required of me in response to this reading? Then I turn the things I have learned – or wondered – into related prayers of thanksgiving confessions, petition – or even, at its most transcendent, adoration. And, yes, I pray my doubts and questions. I pray Scripture. I pray thoughts prompted by listening to God’s side of the conversation. He talks: I listen. I talk: He listens.
God has started the conversation. He has spoken through His Word and His World. So we listen. We speak. He listens. In His Presence we can carry on a running dialogue with God – our Father and Creator.
A beautiful invitation is extended to us in Revelation 3:20: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come and eat with him, and he with me. ” Listen. Open the door. Commune. Communicate.