Matthew Scott — Prayer as Connection, Part 2 — Sunday, March 6th
Third in our Discipleship series, we look at Jesus’ example of what it means to be attentive to the work of the Father.
Prayer as Connection with God: notes and extension, for individuals or groups, based on Sunday morning’s message.
In what follows we continue our focus on prayer. Remember the definition we’re working with: prayer is the practice of attending and responding to the personal presence of God. Last week and this, our angle has been on prayer as deepening our connection with God, so that we know we are not alone, but are companioned by One who is all-loving, all-good, all-powerful. Knowing this, we have courage and motivation to live, and insight into how to live well.
To begin, consider: when you’re with others and someone says, “Let’s pray”, what do you do? What about when you’re alone?
Most of us learn to pray with our eyes closed and our heads bowed. Is that how you pray? Share together and discuss: what “story” about God and about connecting with God does that way of praying tell?
There is a long tradition behind “eyes closed” praying, sometimes called “apophatic” prayer. The story is that God is holy: separate from (“apo”) the created world of object and experience, of thoughts and feelings and sensations. In order to commune with God we need to clear our minds and still our bodies, removing all distractions. That opens up the possibility of “sensing” God, and perhaps of God communicating with us with thoughts, words, Scriptures, pictures and so on. The less of “me” in the mix, the more – potentially – of God.
There is much to be said for this way of praying, and much to be said about it. For now, however, we’ll focus on another, less well-known tradition of prayer. This is “eyes open” prayer, sometimes called “kataphatic”. The story here is that our God – who became incarnate in Jesus – mediates his presence to us through (“kata”) creation, not apart from it. God “quickens” his presence to us through the created world of object and experience, of thoughts and feelings and sensations. The way we engage with this story prayerfully is by paying attention to what we sense, and to what we think and feel, and to what we experience, looking for signs of the Lord’s presence and communicative intent.
In the message on Sunday we learned how Jesus prayed in both ways: by drawing aside from daily life, and by paying attention to his Father’s actions as he went about life, so that he could claim to do only what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19). Listen to the podcast so that you understand the scriptural background.
Now consider and discuss (if with others) a time when you knew God’s presence – and felt him “communicate” with you – in the midst of daily life. How did you go about recognizing his presence and his voice?
Let me share an acronym that captures what look out for as I go through life, seeking to be attentive to the presence of the Lord. The acronym is SPIRI. I pay attention to what is Surprising, cutting across my line of thought or feeling or action. If that stays with me – is Persistent – I pay more attention. If it draws me in, growing in Intensity, so much the better: I begin to wonder if the Lord is drawing my attention. This may show in a fascination with some detail, or in a growing emotional response to what I’m attending to. I then consider what God is wanting to communicate, and check that this is Reinforceable from the teaching of Scripture and by the discernment of others. Finally, in responding to what I’ve “heard”, by action or word, I discover whether it is Impactful, changing something in the world. Often, this last token is the strongest; I’m often less than 100% certain of what I’m discerning, but discover it’s the Lord as others are “Impacted” by what I share or do in response. I take that as another way in which God requires us to trust him, and to venture in faith.
Think and discuss: does an acronym like this make sense to you? To what extent does it match with your experience?
To finish, try an ancient way of “eyes open” prayer, which imagines God present with you as you read the Scriptures. It’s called “Lectio Divina”. Here’s how to do this in a group:
- Pray. Ask God’s Spirit to guide your reading and to speak to you through it.
- Choose a story from the gospels. An extended story of Jesus encountering someone is an excellent choice; but anything in principle will do. For tonight, choose John 5:1–9, which was the text for Sunday’s message.
- Have one person read the story aloud, somewhat slowly, while you listen to understand it.
- Have a second person read the story again, this time more slowly. Hold onto any word or phrase that stands out to you, and when the reading is finished, pray the word or phrase out loud.
- Now spend some time (five minutes) in quiet imagining the scene. Activate your senses: explore the sights and sounds and smells through your imagination. Linger at any moment that impresses itself on you, and pray quietly about anything that stands out.
Share anything from the experience that gave you a sense of God present, then pray together to close. If not with others, journal anything you’ve sensed from the Lord.