Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How to Pray - Part 2 : The Place of Prayer

Once you have decided to begin a discipline of prayer, you need a place to pray. It is true that you can pray anywhere anytime. In fact the apostle Paul urges us to "pray without ceasing." But it is also important to spend some "quality time" alone with God each day. It is best to reserve a regular time and place each day for prayer.

Jesus instructs us, "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."

Privacy seems to be an issue with Jesus. It fosters honesty with God and ourselves. That does not mean you can't pray with people at other times, but one's primary practice of prayer needs to be solo. Prayer is a private audience with God.

I set aside a time - normally in the early evening or late afternoon - to pray. I also do spiritual practice in the mornings after breakfast. But that early session is spent more in reading, thinking, and writing than praying. Bible and devotional reading are helpful, but they can easily crowd out prayer. There needs to be a time reserved exclusively for direct communion with God.

I go into our spare bedroom, which also doubles as a study. I notify my wife that I will be incommunicado for the next half-hour or more, and I shut the door. Then I do nothing but pray to my Father in secret.

I do not answer the phone. I do not read scripture. I do not take notes on anything I discover during prayer... no matter how earth-shattering my insights might seem to be. I figure if my ideas are really that important I will remember them later. This prevents me from turning my prayer time into a brainstorming session.

I prefer to kneel during prayer. The posture of prayer is a cultural thing. The Bible describes people standing to pray; that is the Jewish custom. Eastern cultures sit during prayer and meditation. I recently saw a photo of the Dalai Lama lying prostrate before a statue of the Buddha in the traditional Tibetan posture of prayer. Personally, kneeling inclines my mind and heart to an attitude of worship, submission and receptivity.

I use a kneeling bench that I built ten years ago out of 2x10 pine boards when I was receiving training in spiritual direction at the Shalem Institute. With this simple stool I can sit in a kneeling position without having the whole weight of my body on my knees and legs. This way I can kneel for an extended period of time without discomfort. It also naturally straightens my back and neck, so I am both comfortable and alert.

I also use a timer. I have an app on my old Palm Pilot called a Doan Meditation Timer. There are such programs for iPods, iPhones and iPads. After 30 minutes a chime gently sounds, reminding me how long I have been praying. You may not want to use a timer. Personally I easily lose track of time during prayer. I find myself wondering if I have been praying for an hour or only ten minutes. This device helps me forget about the clock and not be tempted to glance at my watch. For me 30 minutes is a minimum; I often continue well beyond the chime. You may want to begin with fifteen or twenty minutes.

In a future blog I will explain what to do during this time of prayer. But for now, just go into your secret place, shut the door and open your heart to God. The Spirit will do the rest.

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