The second step in a life of prayer and meditation, once you have begun practicing the scary art of Authenticity and Crying Out to God,
Is to begin seeing life as a conversation with God.
I remember as a young, zealous christian, I had a youth minister that wouldn’t say “amen” at the end of his prayers. Many in the church (both old and young) thought this was strange at best,
irreverent and heretical at worst.
But I will never forget the day that he explained to us why he always left out this holy and “right” ending to his prayers. He said,
“I don’t want to end the conversation with him, so I don’t say amen. That way, we can just pick up right where we left off any time of the day.”
This rocked my young world.
I had never considered how our use of the word “amen” was being used to signify that the prayer was over.
Worse yet, it meant that talking with God was only supposed to happen during specified times when we look down at our lap, close our eyes, put our hands together and make as little noise as possible.
Outside of that, it was totally acceptable to go about your day without talking to or listening to God.
I began to see that the kind of prayer I was taught was not conversational,
it was transactional.
The idea that prayer is available at any time of day and not confined to a specific place or time–like before meals, or bedtime, or carefully placed in the Sunday Morning Order of Worship–seems simple enough.
Yet if someone recorded every moment in an entire week of our life, I would argue that 90+% of people only pray at times that have been stamped as “appropriate” for prayer.
Most people do not treat prayer as conversation. They treat it like a game of voicemail tag.
I talk to you and end my sentence, then you talk back to me when you feel like it.
Sure, we say that we know God is talking to us all the time, but if that’s true then most of us are working real hard to ignore him most of the day.
One of my closest friends used to have a little too much fun trying to explain this to people.
He would be at a restaurant with friends enjoying the time together and the conversation. Then, someone would inevitably interrupt everything, including the waitress holding three trays of sizzling hot fajitas, grab each other’s hands (pancake style of course) and pray before anyone took one single bite.
If you were aware of this phenomenon, you made sure not to even TOUCH your food before the prayer, or you risked the angry stares of anyone who believed sustenance to be a sinful if not preceded by prayer. Nope, you’d better let those fajitas lose their sizzle before you even think about taking a nibble.
My friend, however, he would wait until the prayer was over, and very simply ask whoever led the prayer,
“Why do you pray before you eat.”
To which they most often responded,
“Because God provided the food and we need to show our gratitude.”
Then it got really good.
The conversation almost always went like this:
“Do you pray before you fill up your car with gas?”
“Why not? Did God not provide the money to buy that gas to get you places? Are we only grateful for food but not for other things? Do you pray before you open your eyes or take a breath in the morning?”
Most of the time the other person never conceded that prayer before meals was not a Christian necessity. Instead the best they ever gave in response was “It’s what we’re supposed to do” which if you know my friend (or any reasonable human being) is not a satisfactory response.
I’ve gotten slightly off track now, haven’t I?
Back to the point.
After learning to cry out to God with honesty and vulnerability, the next major step in learning to hear god’s voice and really commune with him,
the key to “unceasing prayer” is simply seeing ALL OF LIFE as conversation with God.
Rather than leaving her a voicemail from time to time,
or expecting him to respond to your needs as soon as you need them,
what if you started imagining that God is with you all the time?
Like your best friend.
Or your significant other.
What if he sits with you on the back porch just listening to the birds?
What if she rubs the sleep out of her eyes while you drink your morning coffee?
What if he wants to hear about your frustrations with your boss?
Your worries about your kids?
Your love for homemade ice cream?
What if we treated God like our own inner mind
and rather than holding everything in all the time
what if we just talked with her?
I won’t say this was the single biggest spiritual awakening for me,
but it made the way for almost all of of my spiritual journey.
When you practice seeing every moment of life as an opportunity to talk with God,
to just have a conversation,
You start to find her in everything.
It may sound strange to you.
It may sound crazy,
you may feel like you’re just talking to yourself.
I get that.
If it feels too strange for you then try this:
A great place to start is by taking your current prayer life and just simply not ending the prayer with “amen.”
Instead of putting a period on prayer, try just taking a deep breath, opening your eyes, and going about your day. If you feel that you must end with some word or phrase of significance, try something like
“I trust you.”
“I love you.”
Or even “I’m here God” if you feel you cannot authentically say one of the other two.
“I’m here God” is an INCREDIBLE phrase that says so much more. Deep down it communicates,
“I may not be where I ‘should’ be or where you want me to be or where I want to be, but I’m trying. I’m willing to do what needs to be done but I need you to help out and be a part of this process with me.”
Once you start to treat life as a conversation with God,
prayer becomes less about talking with him
and more about “turning to him.”
When you have a thought or an emotion hit you in the middle of your work day, simply turn your thoughts to God.
Picture him sitting in front of you and just share this thought or feeling with him. Imagine yourself saying,
“what do you think of this?”
like you would with any friend or confidant.
And then, imagine what you think his response would be…his kind, gentle, loving, and self-controlled response
This kind of imagining can be done in an instant in your mind and doesn’t have to derail your day, but it is a huge step toward a life of unceasing prayer. Even if he doesn’t say anything in response, you are opening lines of communication that have maybe never been open before!
If you start practicing this attitude of handing your thoughts, emotions, struggles, fears, anxieties, joys, etc. to a God who is sitting in front of you, then eventually you will begin to see and recognize God communicating with you all around you!
You won’t have to audibly hear him or feel him speaking to your mind. Instead the simplest of things like the way light hits a spider web, or the beauty of a blue jay landing on your fence, or even just the smell of fresh coffee in the morning,
All these everyday occurrences slowly begin to turn into ways that you feel and experience God saying,
“I love you. I am here. I am all around you. It will be okay.”
Only when we are practicing a life of prayer, can we move on to a style of connecting with God that has permeated Christian history, all the way back to before the 3rd century.
Meditation and Contemplation.