Prayer in all its fullness and richness re-orientates and establishes us in right relationships with God, those we love and the world God cares for. It is a holy and transformative habit and way of being.
Andrew Roberts, Holy Habits, Malcolm Down Publishing 2016
When I read that quote, and when I think about coming into God’s presence I’m reminded of Eddie Cochran’s song, “Three Steps to Heaven”:
- Intentionally come into God’s presence.
- We develop our relationships with God, those around us, and God’s creation.
- We are transformed, and so are our surroundings.
1 Intentionally come into God’s presence
God may be omnipresent, but we need to make a conscious effort to be in his presence. Not only to be aware of him, and to acknowledge him, but also to just “be” in his presence. Andrew Roberts talks about prayer as the spiritual air we breathe. We breathe in God’s qualities such as grace, blessings and peace, and then we breathe out our response of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, confession and intercession. Perhaps we all need more time to simply breathe in God, and breathe out our response to him.
Being in that kind of presence should feel quite natural, as that is how God created us in the first place. Pete Greig calls it the ‘presence paradigm’: we were created to walk and talk with God, and to be in relationship, and that everything flows from that place and back into that place. What do we talk to God about? It seems like most of the time I’m talking to him about problems. One day we will have no more problems but we will still have a conversation with God.
When we come into God’s presence we should try to focus on him, which will often lead us into thanking him, for what he has done for us in the past. If we can replace our worries with prayer then the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, comes in, and, like a sentry, will guard our minds and emotions from being overwhelmed by fear, anxiety or temptation.
The 17th century French monk Brother Lawrence said that even a boring job could be an opportunity to enter into God’s presence. In the book “The Practice of the Presence of God” he said that it was not so much that we need to change what we do, but how we do it. He said that we should go about our everyday business for the love of God, rather than with a view to please other people. You could try using “breath prayers” during the day: pray a brief phrase throughout the day that you can say in one breath. For example, from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ.”
We probably all know those times when we don’t feel like praying, but thankfully God’s presence doesn’t rely on our feelings. Remember that, even now, Jesus is with you. Instead of relying on our feelings, rely on his promises. Pause a while…, and remember that he is with you.
You might also find it useful to set aside a time and space when you can spend time with your Bible – God often speaks to his people through his written Word. Focus on a passage, perhaps copy it down and memorise it, and think about what God is saying to you through the words.
2 We develop our relationships with God, those around us, and God’s creation
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Phillippians 4:8-9 (NIV)
As we focus on God in our prayers, whether that’s adoration, confession or thanksgiving, our lives are turned back to God. And as we turn back to him, we are transformed by his love and holiness. This not only improves our own relationships with God, and hence our whole lives, it will also improve the relationships we have with others, and with our world. As we put these things into practice we should see things around us change. We will also become better at praying for others – our intercessions will become better aligned with God’s will and the teachings of Jesus.
When we do all this Paul tells us that the God of peace will be with us. When we put into practice those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy, not only will we find God’s peace, but we will also find his unfailing presence.
3 We are transformed, and so are our surroundings
There are things that will only happen if we pray. There’s a tendency to feel that we mustn’t think too highly of ourselves. It’s true, of course, that we are pretty insignificant compared to God, but we mustn’t underestimate the authority that Christ has given us. As children of God our prayers do make a difference. Jesus said, as reported by John (John 14:13), he will do “whatever you ask in my name.” In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:18-19) we read that Jesus sent out his disciples with “all authority in heaven and on earth.”
Pete Grieg says,
There are terrible evils that will only be restrained, and wonderful blessings that will only be unlocked, by our prayers.
How does that work? Why do our prayers make such a difference? God has chosen to work in partnership with our free wills. We are not robots, programmed to do whatever God wants, but he has given us the ability to think for ourselves, and the Creator invites us, made in his image, to join him in creating the future.
Now it would be remiss of me to suggest that every prayer is always answered how we expect, and when we expect. There are times that we probably all can think of, when our prayers seemed to go unanswered.
We need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes, we will face disappointments in prayer. I’m afraid I don’t have an easy answer, but I do know that Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer. Why are some people healed when we pray, and others aren’t? I don’t know. But what I do know, is that there have been far too many “coincidences” after I have prayed, for my prayers not to have any effect at all.