So far during this series we’ve looked at several very important aspects of prayer:
We first looked at how God invites and is waiting for us to talk to Him, and how He is more than capable and able to do what we think is impossible.
The second week, we learned how like our bodies need physical exercise to stay in shape, so do our prayer lives. And we studied the layout or pattern (exercise chart) for prayer that Jesus’ gives us in the Lord’s Prayer.
Last week, we looked at barriers that may be blocking our prayers; things like wrong requests, wrong timing, or us – our lack of prayer, our unconfessed sin, unresolved conflict, our uncaring attitudes, doubt or unbelief.
This information is great and very important, but will do us absolutely no good if we never slow down long enough to pray. Most of us are far too busy for our own spiritual good.
If you are in the work force you know what I’m talking about. Very likely you are trained and very aware that time is money. That’s why we manage our time, using it efficiently, and deal with time pressures. Cram more in. Start earlier. Work later. Take work home. Use a laptop on the go. Phone clients while you drive. Check your email while you wait at the doctors.
In car terms, an ordinary engine turns about 4,000 revolutions per minute, or RPMs, and some racing motors can turn up to 10,000 RPMs. The work force mentality and our world says, “Rev it up! Rev it up all the way to 10,000 as soon as you get up in the morning, and keep it there until you collapse in bed at night.” Never a dull moment…..but never a reflective moment either.
Where does the still, small voice of God fit into our hectic lives? When do we allow Him to lead and guide and correct and affirm? And if this seldom happens or never happens, how do we expect to lead authentic Christian lives?
Authentic Christianity is not learning a set of doctrines and then stepping in rhythm with people all marching the same way. It is also not simply a service to the needy. It’s a walk – a supernatural walk with a living, dynamic, communicating God. The heart and soul of Christian life is learning to hear God’s voice, and then developing the courage to do what He asks us to do.
Authentic Christians are people set apart from others, even other Christians, as if they are stepping to a totally different drum. Their character seems deeper, their ideas are fresher, their spirit is softer, their courage greater, their leadership stronger, their concerns wider, their compassion more genuine.
They are joyful in spite of difficult circumstances and show wisdom beyond their years.
This is because authentic Christians have strong relationships with the Lord – relationships that are renewed every day.
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. 2 But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. 3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.
Sadly, few Christians ever reach this level of authenticity because most Christians allow busyness to rule their day. But no matter what, a key ingredient in authentic Christianity is always going to be time. Not leftover time, but quality time, quality time on purpose. Time for contemplation, meditation, and reflection. Unhurried, uninterrupted time.
Many believers end up becoming choked by life’s worries, by life’s materials, trying to find pleasures. They realize they are no longer growing and maturing. Instead, their walk with Jesus has slowed to a crawl or even completely stopped.
If this is you, and you truly want the authentic Christian life, something is going to have to give. One day you’re going to have to say, “That’s it! I refuse to just go through the motions. I am going to stop putting my Christian life on autopilot, flying through meaningless prayer, hoping things work out even though I’m not putting any really effort in my prayers. I’m going to stop playing halfheartedly, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to walk an authentic walk with Jesus Christ.”
Some kind of practical vehicle will have to be used to get the RPMs down from 10,000 to 5,000 to 500 where we can actually be at peace with God and in a condition to hear what He is saying. Nobody ever said the Christian walk is easy. But is anything in this world greater or more important? Or let me ask it this way, do you have anything to lose? Because what we’re doing right now isn’t working.
So I want to offer you a very practical, tested, guaranteed RPM-reduction tool. This tool is called journaling. Journaling that involves writing down your experiences, observations and reflections; looking behind the events of the day for their hidden meanings; and recording ideas as they come to you.
When I first read about this idea, I imagined someone spending hours first thing in the morning and thought who in the world has that kind of time. I thought of John Wesley who prayed for 2 ½ hours every morning. That’s too time consuming for me.
But I decided to try it anyways. The first thing I did, each night I looked back at my day and made a list of only the positive things. The results I found were amazing. My mind was at peace as I fell asleep. I slept better than I had in a long time. My thoughts were gathered, my feelings better in check. My attitude was positive. I felt good when I woke up in the morning.
Then in the mornings, I started to reflect even more on the previous day. Sticking to one page so I didn’t overwhelm myself, I wrote about my interactions with people, my thoughts on the events of yesterday, my feelings, high points, low points, frustrations, or whatever I was going to do and didn’t.
This kind of reflecting and writing can be whatever you want it to be. The important message is most of us live unexamined lives. We repeat the same errors day after day. We don’t learn much from the decisions we make, whether they are good or bad. We don’t know why we’re here or even where we’re going.
One benefit to journaling is that it forces us to examine our lives. But an even great benefit is that the very act of journaling – sitting down, getting out our pen and notebook, focusing our thoughts on our lives, writing for just five or ten minutes – will literally reduce our RPMs from 10,000 to 5,000 right away. It takes us longer to write something out then to say it.
Journaling your reflections can be the first step in slowing down to pray. It gives the body a brief rest. It focuses the mind. It’s a great stress reliever. But even though it may improve your life greatly, it will not in itself turn us into an authentic Christian. It’s just the first step in the right direction.
Step three is writing out your prayers. Some say they don’t need to schedule regular time for prayer because they just do it as they go about their day. These people are only kidding themselves. I know this first hand.
You can’t build a marriage on the run or any other relationship for that matter. To get to know someone and to keep the relationship fresh, you have to slow down and spend time together.
So after getting my RPM’s down to 5,000, I then flip to another page and write a prayer. Sticking again to only one page to ensure I’ll do it and not overwhelm myself. It also assures me that I’ll do it every day because it is a realistic amount of time, given all the other stuff I have to do in a day.
By this time after writing the prayer, my RPMs are down from 5,000 to 500 and I’m feeling God’s peace. My heart and mind are relaxed, and I can sit still and listen to the Lord which is the last step. I’m quite enough to hear if He chooses to speak in that still, small voice.
This is probably the trickiest part. I feel like God probably says to us, “If we are supposed to be enjoying a relationship, then why are you doing all the talking. Let me get a word in somewhere.”
So if God is so anxious to speak to us, let’s talk about how He does that. How does He actually communicate with us?
- One way is that God speaks through His Word. As we read the Bible and meditate on it, God helps to apply it to our lives. No matter how old the Bible gets, this is the only book that is still relevant and will always be relevant to our lives. There are some verses that I’ve read 100 times, yet one day it’s like it just jumps off the page like I’ve never seen it before and seems to take a whole new meaning to fit my circumstances. That’s the power of God’s Word.
- Another way He speaks to us is through people.
a. He provides for you through a neighbor showing up with a casserole when you’re ill or have no money to buy food.
b. He cares for you through the arms of a friend who understands your grief and tries to console you.
c. He guides you through a counselor who points you to the path God has chosen for you.
d. He gives you the encouragement through your fellow sisters and brothers just when you need it most.
- Another way He speaks to us is through direct promptings of the Holy Spirit. According to scripture, this third person of the Godhead, leads, affirms, and assures Christ’s followers. I see this as our gut feeling, our conscience, our sense of right and wrong.
But a lot of Christians don’t expect God to speak to them, and therefore don’t believe that He actually does. But it’s not like Jesus went to Heaven 40 days after His resurrection never to be heard from again.
Though this attitude is common, it hardly fits the picture of God painted through the scriptures. Scripture is full of accounts of God speaking directly to His children.
- Adam and Eve walked and had conversations with God in the garden.
- God called Abraham from one place to another promising to give him a great nation.
- He spoke to Moses through a burning bush.
- Gave Joshua clear military advice.
- He talked to David about governing Israel and his personal sins and struggles.
In fact, all throughout the Old Testament God spoke, and His people either listened or chose to ignore His words. In places in the Bible, it may look like God abandoned His people, but God never abandoned His people. His people abandoned Him. He was always there ready to talk to them. In fact, the pattern is repeated in the New Testament.
- God spoke to Saul the persecutor through a blinding light on the road to Damascus.
- He spoke to Peter through a vision to share with the Gentiles.
- He spoke to John during his exile on an island showing him God’s purposes in human history.
And it makes no sense to believe that God lost his voice at the end of the 1st century. If the essence of Christianity is a personal relationship between the Almighty God and individual human beings, then God still speaks to believers today. In fact, Jesus promised that He would. He said the Holy Spirit would stay with the church forever.
15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.
The truth is that your growth as a Christian depends on God speaking to you. And your life plans are greatly affected by how you receive and respond to His words. Hearing the prompting of the Holy Spirit is vitally important to leading a Christian life. But often, when the Spirit tries to get through to us, He gets a busy signal. For many of us, something has got to change!
People who are truly interested in hearing from God have to give something. And that usually comes in the form of time and stillness, disciplined stillness. If anyone could have played the I-don’t-have-time-to-be-still card, it was Jesus.
Crowds followed Him wherever He went. And not just 100 or 200, but thousands of people. His preaching/teaching/healing ministry was all-day, every day. Yet Jesus developed the discipline of stillness with God in spite of the responsibilities and roles that He carried.
Mark 1:35 says
35 Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.
Before daylight – you know what that shows us? Times of stillness and solitude were so very important to Him that He made time. And in those times of solitude, He poured out His heart to His Father, but He also listened. He needed His Father’s comfort, direction, affirmation and assurance.
And because of the continual promptings He received, there was purpose to His steps and the people around Him saw this. They saw His confidence and certainty of His mission and role.
Jesus wasn’t the only one that scripture tells us that did this.
2 Samuel says King David, author of many of the Psalms, “went in and sat before the Lord.”
Acts tells us that the apostle Peter went up on the roof to pray at lunchtime, and God talked to him there.
Etc., etc. Scripture’s full of accounts of people who took time to hear what God had to say to them…directly.
God is anxious to speak to us. And you can be sure you will find His words, His guidance, His affirmation when you come to Him in solitude, when we learn how to focus and center our hearts and be quiet.
I encourage you to try journaling, so much that I have some notebooks on the table in the hallway for your taking. Can it really hurt to try? Evaluate your day and yourself, pray in the way Jesus teaches us, and listen for God’s words.
Journaling forces me to be specific about my prayers and people’s needs. And even bigger, it helps me to see when and how God is answering prayers. I find God’s evidence in these pages. And for the ugliest pages, you can burn those babies! Burn them as a sense of letting go.
So look, journaling quiets my mind and prepares me to hear God speak, but I know this method won’t work for everyone. I only ask that you try it. Because you don’t know if it works for you until you actually try it. Try writing out a prayer once a week at first. If you find it helpful, do it more often. If it cramps your style (or your hand) and makes you uncomfortable, then find another means that is more suitable for you.
That’s ok. Some people can’t stand writing anything let alone journal entries and prayers every day. I get that. They may prefer to talk quietly to God. Some are good at meditating without writing or saying a word. Where do you think Pilates came from?
The important thing is to find a way that works for you. An approach that will still your racing mind, soften your heart, and enable you to hear God’s still, small voice. However, you build the discipline of stillness into your life, you will find these quiet moments in God’s presence becoming incredibly precious to you.
The central truth about all of this is: We serve a God who has spoken in history, who will indeed speak tomorrow and who wants to speak to us right now, right where we are. So experiment and see what works for you. Remember, the key is to practice praying – and to practice regularly, privately, sincerely, and specifically.