I used to have two single spaced pages of that daunting stuff, name after name, concern after concern. But I kept it up. I went through those names every day. Did it get tedious? You bet. But I did it. For years, I kept a huge prayer list. I’m talking hundreds of names.
Today, I still have a list, but not as formal or nearly as big. But here’s the strange thing. I’m praying for more people now than I ever did. And I’m praying for them more intently, more passionately, more constantly than I have ever before too.
Last week, I talked about how powerfully prayer change things, how prayers changed history. And that’s why you gotta do it. If you really want to love someone, pray for them. Pray for the people they love too. But here’s the crucial point, it’s all too much. What do I mean?
Sheesh, you watch the news. Oh my goodness, there’s that crisis over there, and there’s that tragedy over here. I gotta pray for that. Then you’ve got the President to pray for. And then, there are representatives in Congress, Senators, and sheesh the Governor, the state legislators, the county ones, the Mayor And what about the folks to pray for in the church, in your family, among your friends. And let’s not forget the neighbors having problems in their marriage or that person you know who’s so lost spiritually. Oh how about teachers, doctors, nurses, first responders. Oh my goodness. It never ends. That’s how my list grew and grew and grew.
You could pray for three hours, heck 24 hours and not get through all the needs. So, what do you do? You still make a time for prayer, but you discover. Prayer only begins there. You realize. Prayer can be something happening all the time in you. Could this happen?
Could your entire life become a sort of living prayer? Could you experience Jesus so intimately that every moment, you and Jesus are praying together for the world. Instead of prayer getting stuck off in some set aside holy moment of prayer, could your whole life become that holy moment? What if that could happen, could really happen? How would it change you? How would it fill you and the world with more peace, more joy, more presence, more God? But how does that even happen? In these words, God points the way. Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
How can it happen? How could you experience a life that becomes filled up with prayer? St. Anthony of the Desert (who knew a whole lot about prayer) described it this way. He said. “Perfect prayer is not to know that you are praying?” Hold on…what? Does that make any sense? It does when you realize that prayer could become something in your life that comes as naturally to you as breathing. After all, you’re breathing right now, but are you thinking about it? No, you’re just doing it. And your prayers can become like that. In these words, God points the way.
It all begins in that first line we heard. “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” When you wait like that, on God alone, then God comes. God comes as your rock, your fortress, your salvation. And as you wait, as that presence fills you, you start carrying it with you wherever you go. You carry it so much that nothing, literally nothing can ever shake you.
But do you see how it happens? It doesn’t happen with words. Don’t get me wrong. You still use words when you pray, but you don’t just use words. You make space for the silence. You wait in the quietness for God alone. Not God and all my problems but God alone. And when you do this, when you enter into that “God alone silence”, it opens you like nothing can to what prayer can be.
That’s why psalm after psalm talks about quietness and silence. Be still and know that I am God. Or another psalm says. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O God” Sheesh, look at Jesus. The Bible says that he spent whole nights praying. Do you think he was talking that whole time, hours and hours? No, Jesus was listening? Jesus was waiting on God alone.
Or let’s take Paul. Paul talks about getting caught up into paradise. Do you think he was talking when that happened? He tells you he wasn’t. He says: “I heard inexpressible things that no one is permitted to tell.” In another letter he tells you. “Pray without ceasing.” How is that possible? It’s possible if your prayer becomes like breathing. And prayer like can happen, it really can. But to get there, your prayers have to go into the silence, to wait there for God alone.
But here’s the problem. You probably don’t want to do it. You wonder. What the heck am I supposed to do? Sit there and be quiet, really? That doesn’t sound that exciting. And you’re right. It’s not all that exciting, until over time, you see it changing everything in your life. Then it’s not just exciting, it’s breathtaking. And, when you see that, you realize like never before. Prayer is literally the most important thing ever.
So, let’s say, you give this a shot. You try it. Well, the first thing that will happen is your mind will get really loud. In another religious tradition, they call this the “monkey mind.” I love that image. It so fits. It feels like your thoughts are like monkeys bouncing through the trees.
What do I mean? Well, you get quiet, and you’ll start thinking. “Did I put that item on the grocery list? How much time have I been sitting here? Did I set my alarm to am or pm? What’s going on with that guy at work?” Do you get my point? Your mind gets clogged up with all sorts of stuff that has been floating around up there, stuff you didn’t even know was floating around up there. So, what do you do with it?
You let it go. Imagine to yourself. All those thoughts, they’re like boats on a river. So, I’m just going to let those boats go on by.
And how do you do that? You find a word or phrase to focus on like Jesus or God or Love or Be still or Wait and See or whatever. It doesn’t matter what it is. You just use it to help you let go of the boats, those thoughts clogging up your mind. And when you let go of those boats, you are letting go of something deeper.
If you and I are honest, normally, without help, our lives have one central note. Me, Me, Me, Me, Me. And trust me, it’s going on and you don’t even notice it. But when you get quiet, you do. So, when you let go of the boats, you are letting go of that obsessive focus on you. And then your life becomes not simply Me, but Me and God.
You see. When you let those boats go, you are letting them go to God. Your letting go is a prayer. You are turning all of that over to the One who holds it all anyway.
But as these boats fade away, and they will, then your experience moves. Now, it’s not just You and God. It’s God and You. You discover something amazing. God is already contemplating you. God is already seeing you, feeling you, understanding you. And in the silence, you begin to sense that God’s love has been focusing on you all the time, your whole life. And as that happens, then often the word or phrase you use will begin to fade away, maybe without you even noticing it.
And then, it’ll be just God. Have you ever watched a movie that just captured you? You get so wrapped up in the story and the characters that time just flies. Maybe it happens with a book or a certain activity. Whatever it is, at some point you find yourself in the flow. And that happens here with this silence, with this waiting on God. You find yourself in the flow, in the flow of God’s very presence.
It’s not magical, this prayer of waiting and seeing. It’s not like you do this once, and boom, perfect peace, joy, total awesomeness. No, it’s like a physical workout. Do you go to the gym one time, and expect to wake up the next day, 20 lbs lighter, your body ready for a magazine cover? No. But over time, as you do the work, your body changes. In the same way, this waiting in silence changes you. It changes you in ways far deeper than anything a gym could. And all you gotta do is just be quiet. Just set a clock or an alarm on your phone for five minutes and be quiet. That’s it.
Why do this? Here’s the truth. You are right now a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. If you’re contemplating your phone or the news or Netflix or your worries or your anxieties, your minds going to align with that stuff. And that’s not good. But when you let more of God into your life, just five minutes even, your mind begins to align with that. Why? That five or ten minutes of you letting God into your life, of waiting alone in the silence, it starts to overflow, to overflow into every area of your life.
And when it does, without you even realizing it, you’ll start bringing everything to God in prayer. Sometimes, it’ll be words. But a lot of times, your heart will just start connecting to God’s heart, in a way as natural as breathing. And as that happens, you’ll experience a level of peace, of unshakability that you didn’t think possible. You’ll find yourself trusting in God in all times as this psalm puts it. And things that used to stress you won’t. And people will start noticing. They’ll sense the peace, the confidence, the refuge you are finding in every moment in God. And you’re start seeing God everywhere, even in the most broken of situations. And prayer will have become not just something you do, but something you are becoming, you are living. And this is possible for you, not just for Mother Teresa or some other saint, but for you. And it all begins with just five minutes in quietness, five minutes that over time will change you, will change the world, will change everything. So, how about you do it?