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20 May 2009 @ 06:04 pm
Walking with God, Part II  
Do you remember my post Walking with God?  Here are two further thoughts on the topic.

A.  Letting Go of Fear

A blogger writes here about how she found that trying to let go of fear, just for each day as it happens, ended up improving her ability to discern God's will for her life.  This reminded me of a conversation I had with someone in my family where I talked about how my approach to fear used to be to sort of push it down, not dwell on it, and try to keep it from affecting my life as best I could.  But it was always sort of there in the background.  Lately, I've been learning (and this is an ongoing process, not an accomplished fact) to turn to God with my fears instead.  I let myself be scared in front of Him, and then I let Him reassure me that I have nothing to be afraid of, and then I hold on to that faith.  This has given me more and more peace, and it has been a significant part of my own walk with God.

B.  Prayer

At about the same time in my life that I started to take Eldredge's concept of walking with God seriously, I also noticed that he had some recommendations about how to pray that reminded me a lot of the recommendations my charismatic prayer group was making (albeit he stated them rather less coherently).  And then one day I happened to sit down and look at the Our Father, and it all sort of jumped out at me, that these recommendations matched themes that were in that basic prayer.  I started praying this way, every day, about the same time that I started trying to practice hearing God's voice.  The change I felt was immediate and drastic.  Suddenly God was not an idea, but a person whose presence I could sense.  (If you had asked me before, I would have told you that God was a person to me; I was not aware of the degree to which I thought about him rather than related to him.)  Since at least the time that I was a teenager, I have struggled with mood swings that involved some really, really nasty thoughts popping into my head.  Suddenly, as I began to pray this way, these thoughts had the wind knocked out of them.  They weren't completely gone, but it was like the difference between a gale and a slight breeze.  Those first few months after I started praying this way were wonderful.  Since then, my sense of God's presence and the presence of nasty thoughts tends to go up and down, depending on a variety of factors. But it has always been clear to me that God wanted me to keep praying this way. 

This probably deserves a post of its own, but instead I'll just lay out the idea of how this prayer works in relative brevity here.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  These are words of worship.  The first commandment is to have no gods before God, and Jesus tells us the most important commandment is to love God with all our being.  Loving God is the most important thing we do, and telling God we love him is as important a part of our relationship with him as telling a spouse you love them is important to a marital relationship.  This includes words of praise (telling how great God is), words of thanksgiving, and words of love.  It can be as short as "I love you, God"; it can be as long as an hour of singing worship songs.  It is important to do this, to move our hearts towards thankfulness and love, even when we don't feel like it.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  These are words of submission.  Promise to obey God today.  (And do it again tomorrow and the next day and so on.)  When you pray 'thy kingdom come', you are asking Jesus to be king of your life.  That means that you are letting go of the need to control everything and instead are putting him in charge of what you do and what happens to you.  I find that telling God once a day that I will do his will is good practice, a good reminder, that helps make it easier to actually do his will during the day.  This is usually a short action for me; I pick one of the ways I have heard this phrased: "I submit to you, God", "I tell You 'yes'", "I will obey you, God".  Sometimes this is hard for me to feel like I really mean it; then I usually try to relax my inner control freak and focus on giving myself to him.  If it still doesn't feel like I mean it, then I may just tell God I'm trying, or ask him for help, and then move on, lest it become a source of anxiety. 

I generally consider having a bit of quiet time to listen for what God's will IS, to be a part of this praying to submit to God's will, although for convenience's sake I do this at a later time of the day.

Give us this day our daily bread.  Ask God for your heart's desires.  Those things which I think are important I try to remember to put on a list in my head to pray every day: unity and community for the church, peace and justice - especially an end to abortion - for the world, that all my friends and family will draw closer to Him, etc.  I pray every day that God will give us a house by 2012 (the perfect house for us); you might be surprised by how much easier it is to be patient for things that you really really want, when you persistently ask for them in prayer and really believe that God is going to answer that prayer, even if he does it in his own time.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  We need to ask God to forgive our sins, and that means we need to be sorry for our sins.  And in order to be sorry for our sins, we generally need to know what those sins are.  I found that praying the Jesuit Examen every night really helped me grow in my ability to see and face my sins.  I still try to do that somewhat, but I often forget or skip it lately.  On the other hand, I spend more time during the day thinking through my actions than I used to.  I think even a few minutes each day to reflect on your sins that day, apologize for them, and resolving to do better will help.  (Although I will say, in my experience, there often is long periods of time where repenting each night for a particular sin has finally helped me to recognize the sin before I commit it, but not yet given me the will to not commit it.  This is very frustrating, but continuing to pray this way seems to help.)

Lead us not into temptation.  Ok, I don't really think I understand what this part means yet.  But part of it might be that the Holy Spirit gives us the power to become holy, to transform our lives and have victory over sin.  So I try to ask the Holy Spirit for that each day.

And deliver us from evil.  I wrote about that already here, but let me sum it up.  Evil spirits are real, and they have an effect on our lives, even though it's not always easy to point at that effect.  But God is more powerful than them, and a daily prayer for protection from them is good.  Eph 6: 10-17 talks about putting on the armor of God; that is the way of praying that I hear most from people who take the idea of being delivered from evil seriously.  I pray not just for myself to be protected, but also my children who are under my authority.  (I also ask protection for Ken and Brittany; I don't know if that works the same way as protection for me and the kids, since I don't know that I have spiritual authority over them, but I'm sure it can't hurt to ask.)

Each of these things - worship, submission, requests, repentance, and protection - are different movements of the heart and mind.  I believe that it is important that all of them be prayed daily (although I figure Jesus also put them in order from most important to least).  Anything is better than nothing; if the most you could bring yourself to do is run through the whole list in 10 seconds, then do that.  If I had the time, I would probably spend two or three hours on it.  Right now I give myself a couple minutes to run through it all before breakfast, and then take time during the afternoon to sit in quiet and then to read the bible meditatively, and hopefully reflect on my sins a bit before bed. 

As I said, I started praying this way about the same time that I started trying to practice hearing God's voice.  It gave a huge boost to my spiritual life, and praying this way continues to help me on my spiritual journey (especially when I am most faithful to it).