Before Praying….

Last Wednesday evening I was reminded by Terry Smith of a wonderful summary of worship from William Temple, Archbishop of Cantebury (1942-1944). It was Temple’s vision of how liturgical community can help spiritually form a person. Terry first heard it from E. H. Ijams who, at the time, was an elder at the Highland Church of Christ in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1971, at a college retreat, Ijams suggested it as a meditation before prayer and Terry has practiced it in his life.

Since last Wednesday I have practiced this several times.  I take about five to ten minutes in silent meditation letting my mind move through these five themes before I pray.  I have found it wonderfully liberating and focusing as the method awakens me to God’s presence.  It is a way for me to center myself, exclude distracting thoughts and focus on the presence of God. Below is simply one brief meditation of the sort of thing my mind does as I seek to center and focus before I pray with this method.  (And, of course, there are many other methods; this is not the only nor necessarily the best one…but it is one.)

 1.  Quicken your conscience with the holiness of God.

Recalling Isaiah 6, I bring my conscience into the presence of God surrounded by his angels who are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy.” My conscience accuses me, the Accuser points his finger at me, and the whole of creation stands ready to condemn me. Just as I am confessing “Woe is me; I am a man of unclean lips,” the Father sends one of his angels with a burning coal from the altar toward me. I am frightened. This is judgment. This is payback. The vengeance of God is breaking out against me just as it did Uzzah. But, hallelujah surprise, the coal is not judgment but forgiveness; it is from the altar…it is atonement….it is a cleansing. My conscience is purged by the grace of God and awakened to the holy love of God. I bow before my creator’s mercy as God himself by his own presence awakens my conscience, cleanses it, and quickens it to sense, feel and know divine holiness.

2.  Feed your mind with the truth of God.

My mind will think and my gut will feel whatever it is I feed it. I must offer my mind the truth of God so that I might contemplate the reality of God in the world. Jesus is the truth of God. I read the Gospels; I expose myself to the ministry, heart and life of Jesus. For meditation, I recall one of the stories from the Gospels to feed my mind with God’s truth. I remember the Lepers–10 of them–whom Jesus healed, but only one returned to thank Jesus whose mercy was not limited by their disease, religion, race or ingratitude. The one who returned was a Samaritan. Am I grateful? Is my mercy limited? Am I like Jesus? I feed my mind with the truth of God, Jesus.

3.  Purge your imagination with the beauty of God.

Scripture offers pictures for our imagination and not simply propositions for our cognition. The beauty of God is perceived not only in wondrous literary chiasms but also in poetic and apocalyptic imagery that fires the imagination. Art takes us places where propositions cannot.  Art, whether fiction, movies, dramas, paintings, mosaics, draws out our emotions where propositions may only engage the intellect. The picture of Revelation 4-5, with thousands and thousands of angels surrounding the Father’s throne, engages our soul, our gut. When the elders cast their crowns before the throne, when the four living creatures bow, when the whole of creation resounds with praise, when thousands of angels sing, the earth shakes and the heavens open to receive the glory of the newly crowned King, Jesus. God’s own throneroom and the meaningfulness of that moment reflect the beauty of God. My imagination embraces that beauty. (Or, it could be the beauty of God’s creation itself!)

4.  Open your heart to the love of God.

Love me? Even with all my stuff. Can God truly delight in me? “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:9). Jesus loves me just like the Father loves Jesus. I must bring my heart–with all its conflicting emotions–into the presence of the Father who loves Jesus.  Their love surrounds me; their love penetrates me.  They love me as they love each other, and they invite me to experience their love.  I sit in the presence of God, and I imagine the Father, Son and Spirit sitting with me.  Their smiles, their touch, their interaction all bespeak a true delight to be in my presence. God loves me, even me. They welcome this moment when I answer their knock at the door and invite them to commune with me.

5.  Devote your will to the purposes of God.

What do you want, O God? What do you desire? It is not burnt offerings; it is not more books; it is not “good deeds.” I want to allign my will with yours.  Like Isaiah, and like the Psalmist (40:7), I declare “Here I am”….I am here to do you will, O God.  “I delight to do your will.” Father, center my will in yours; focus my desires on what you desire because I know you desire only what is good for me and for your creation. Your desire is for me, and my desire is for you. May I, Father, devote myself to your purposes in the world. May I, Father, embrace your mission for your creation, join you in your work, and embody your will in my life. This, Father, is my desire.

Before praying this past week, I have taken five or so minutes of meditative silence to run my mind through each of these points.  Dwelling on the holiness, truth, beauty, love and purposes of God prepares my mind to pray and then to silently listen.  It removes distractions from my mind and focuses me on communing with God with whom I then converse and listen for his response. 

It has been a helpful discipline for me.  I commend it.

5 Responses to “Before Praying….”

  1.   Matthew Says:

    Thanks John Mark. What a rich way to begin a prayer time with God!

  2.   richard constant Says:

    wow !!!!
    you are one piece of great work john mark

    i am inadiquite in words.
    to express the blessings i have recieved from your words.
    a little rest and piece to you my brother this next year is my prayer for you and all


  3.   Jesus Checks Says:

    Wonderful article, thank you

  4.   John King Says:

    Thanks for sharing this exercise that has blessed your prayer times. In a recent Wednesday night class of men, we have written prayers based on Kingdom texts as an exercise to prepare our minds to plead God’s promises and to pray with a focus on His desire to advance the kingdom, so the will of God will be done here on earth just as it is in heaven. It has been rich. I plan to do a CD recording of several of these prayers to give out to the congregation as prayer-starters, prayer models. Slowing down and reflecting on God’s character and purposes takes intentionality and discipline. Thanks for encouraging and modelling these traits!

  5.   bobbyvalentine Says:

    Thanks for this. I really do appreciate it and will try it.

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