This four-part devotional series are adapted sessions from theHeart Youth Summer 2022 Further Up Further In Retreat. These devotions invite you into a deeper and more rooted sense of prayer.
Have you ever felt like the disciples, who just wanted to better learn how to orient themselves toward God, to spend time with him in prayer, who asked of Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray"? I have.
Years ago, Taylor and I attended a missionary training program put on by a group of international missionaries with all kinds of global experience. The director of the camp invited us spend the first 45 minutes of each day in a pattern he called "spiritual muscle building." Okay, it's a cheesy name, but it really carried the concept well. It took effort to commune with God. The idea was to spend 15 minutes each in prayer, scripture, and journaling. While it was a challenge at first, we grew to deeply appreciate this rhythm and structure to our time with God.
This wise director used another metaphor, however. He spoke of spending time with God kind of like tanning (which, with my complexion, I never do). He made sure we understood that though time with God was often effortful, the time should also be passive. In other words, God changes us simply as we sit in his presence.
Richard Foster, in his Celebration of Discipline, describes this tension with the image of a canyon trail. On one side of this narrow canyon trail is the pitfall of moralism, where we pretend we can attain godliness by our own effort and rigor. On the other side is the pitfall of antinomianism, where we pretend that godliness requires no effort at all. The truth is in the tension. We do have effort to put in, much like a workout routine ("spiritual muscle building"). Like brushing our teeth or going for a run, healthiness doesn't just happen, but is a rhythm, a lifestyle. It's why we call it discipleship - because following Jesus requires discipline. And yet, we cannot make ourselves more like God. We can seek his presence, but it is he who changes us. Like the passive processes of muscle recovery or sunlight soaking into our skin (tanning), we have to spend time being formed by God.
With these tensions outlined, I want to invite you into the canyon wonderful trail. This summer, in the irregularities of vacations, opportunities, and frenetic activities, perhaps we can reassess our relationship to God through a simple diagnostic: our prayer lives. On this canyon trail of active and passive effort, we, like the disciples, need some guidance. We need some maps. And so, we've put together a collection of prayer practices for you to meet with God. It will take some effort. It will take some letting go. But God wants to commune with you on this journey of faith. So, take a map and try one of these out. See how many you can try this summer and incorporate into your devotional time. Let us know how these prayer styles help you spend time with God! Are you ready?
The Psalms are a language, even a dialogue, of prayer. They are God’s inspired word, written from within the human experience, communicating back to God. They are raw, hopeful, heartbreaking, and shocking at times. You’d be surprised what you can pray to God. So, let's try borrowing their language to talk to God in prayer.
Did you know that body language is a part of prayer life? The palms-up, palms-down prayer is from Richard Foster. It’s a simple way to use body language in your prayer life. If you are a bit antsy, this kind of prayer might help you focus on what you want to say and hear from God.
“I’m not sure what to do with my hands."
- Ricky Bobby
We’ve explored lament before at theHeart. Chances are, you have some complaints about your life. Did you know that God wants to hear them? Did you know that it is okay and even good to bring your complaint to God? Give yourself permission to complain, because God gives you that permission in prayer.
If you dread prayer because you have to be quiet and still, dread not! You don’t have stay still while you pray. Let's try something inspired by labyrinth prayer. Pick a trail you can walk in and out in a simple 10-minute span. You will be using this trail to visualize your time with God. Get ready to get moving.
Does prayer feel so much like a mental exercise? Are you someone who likes visuals to help you organize your thoughts? Make a list. Yes, it's simple. And a list can help in so many ways. What’s stirring in your heart? What are the names, the situations, the worries? Put them on paper to focus on them, bring them before God, and over time, watch God address them.
Have you noticed how repeating something can make it sink in more? Have you noticed how repeating something can make it sink in more? Have you noticed how repeating something can make it sink in more? I think I’ve illustrated the point. We are going to be attempting a very simple and very old style of prayer - meditative repeating. So you’ll be letting a phrase of your prayer tumble over and over and over and over in your heart, mind, and mouth as you repeat to God a reality of who you are and who he is.
Do you believe that God is here? Like right now in this place? The Psalms talk about God speaking through the skies, knowledge of him being plain in creation. The prophets use dramatic language about trees clapping, mountains singing, creation groaning with anticipation. What if you listened here in the place you are for God?
DEBRIEF AND DISCUSS
If you have a group, try these and discuss. If you are trying these solo, journal about it.
What did you think?
Which prayer station was your favorite?
Which was the strangest to you?
Which do you wish to revisit and incorporate in your prayer life?
Which one would you recommend to a friend who is struggling to talk to God?