~ Prayer Guidance ~
"Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel. Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise." (Philippians 4:6-8)
Embedded in these few verses is an array of ways to structure prayer. We practice so many forms of prayer, from the completely spontaneous ones for help or of praise to formal recitations. In a past Weekly Reflection, "Lord, Teach Us to Pray," we examined the "Lord's Prayer" as a model to follow for content, the substance and target of our prayers. The above three verses from the letter to the Philippians provides an excellent framework for the ways to pray.
First, St. Paul instructs us to redirect the energy and time spent on worry into praying. No need to feel discouraged if you are a constant worrier, since we are told to "pray without stopping" anyway, and you will then be a constant prayer! Nothing is too trivial or small to bring to God's attention in prayer, since we are to pray about everything.
Note that Paul does not say to give thanks, and then present your requests, but rather to offer requests while in a state of thankfulness. One of the ways to cultivate a state of thankfulness is to extend the practice of praying "grace" before meals to everything. Before drinking water, just think in your mind, "Thank you, Father, for this gift." Before leaving your bed, "Thank you, Father, for this day." Upon getting out of your car, "Thank you, Father, for the safe trip." Upon hearing your child come into the house, "Thank you, Father, for my child."
Yes, once this becomes a habit, you'll be praying "without stopping," with a thankful heart. The Scriptures don't say to keep asking God for things without stopping, but to pray continuously. Prayer is not constant asking, but continuous communion in gratitude with our heavenly Father.
There are several times during the day when we need to retreat from the world into prayer, as Jesus did. For many, this may be the early morning or late evening. Let your mind do what it probably tends to do anyway, that is to reflect on the previous day's (or hour's) events. This time, instead of your mind just running whatever memory tape it wants, restrict it only to the good moments and events for which you can thank God.
Even in the worst of times, you will be surprised over the quantity and kinds of good moments and blessings that you'll recall that would otherwise be overshadowed by the painful events. This helps to establish your state of thankfulness as you next reflect upon your feelings, reactions to events, and associated attitudes.
Being in the "mind of Christ," contemplate all this as Jesus would. Reinforce your thankfulness with prayers of gratitude for those moments when you permitted the Holy Spirit to work in and through you. Upon recalling moments when you grieved or resisted the Holy Spirit's urgings, ask for forgiveness and be grateful for that gift. Appreciate that He can be stronger in our confessed weakness, praying for and anticipating His transformation.
In order to "keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly and proper" and to never stop thinking "about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise," we must make time in our prayer lives. Reflecting on these things during those prayer retreat times is a great way to end. It's important to draw upon what is "true, pure, right, holy, friendly and proper" from our daily living and experiences rather than from abstract ideas. With the mind of Christ, we can see true, pure, and holy moments worthy of praise in the worst of days and circumstances. To do so is to practice Christ-likeness.
Another way to use reflecting upon "what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise" is "two-way" prayer contemplating Scripture. Choose Scripture passages from the Psalms, the prayers in Isaiah, the teachings of Jesus in John 14-17, His sermon on the mount, or the hundreds of others to which you feel led. Understand that our souls have subconscious needs and yearnings. The Holy Spirit also works within us to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom and our relationship to it that we most need to know. As we read that selected Scripture passage several times, slowing down our reading more and more each time, certain words, phrases or a verse may lock onto our attention, often for reasons we are not yet aware.
In a prayerful state, invite the Holy Spirit within to speak through that Scripture to you. Keep your attention on it for as long as you feel the urge or need. Remembering the word of God is alive and powerful, your Scripture phrase or verse may well trigger feelings and thoughts from out of the wells of your dreams, hopes, fears, struggles, loves and yearnings. This is the time for listening to that "still, small voice." These thoughts and feelings, fused with the message of Scripture, are offered as prayers. Continue the prayerful rhythm of reading, paying attention, and listening for the time you set aside daily. God will then "bless you with peace that no one can completely understand," which "will control the way you think and feel." And those thoughts and feelings controlled by God become your fresh, new and vibrant prayers to Him.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © March 24, 2001
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com
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