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Prayer as Connection — Part 2

By March 6, 2022April 6th, 2022Audio, Discipleship, Home

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.

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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:

  1. Pray.  Ask God’s Spirit to guide your reading and to speak to you through it.
  2. 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.
  3. Have one person read the story aloud, some­what slowly, while you listen to under­stand it.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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