Centering Prayer

Centering prayer is one of my favorite ways to spend time with God.

It’s a time to just sit and be still in the presence of God. Not talking or listening. Just being.

We seldom spend enough time just sitting quietly. Every part of us needs that stillness – body, soul, spirit. Even more so, we need that time just being in God’s presence.

Psalm 46:10 reminds us:

“‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!'” (NKJV)

During centering prayer, I don’t feel like anything is happening. That’s okay. That’s how it is supposed to be. It’s not a “feel good” exercise. It’s simply being with the Creator of the universe – the Creator of me.

Have you ever had the experience of sitting with a spouse, family member, or friend that you know really well – and just sitting, not saying a word? If you reflect, you’ll probably recognize you have done this many times. It’s so peaceful when you can just be yourself around someone else, and not have to do or say anything. That’s a genuine relationship. And that’s exactly what God desires with each one of us. He is the best family and friend we will ever have.

Even though it feels like nothing is happening during my time of centering prayer, for the rest of the day I can tell the difference. I’m more attuned to what He wants to show me. Everything in me is more at peace. When I leave my time of centering prayer, I often feel like I’ve just gone for a swim or a kayaking excursion. It’s refreshing. Renewing. As only His presence can be.

Centering prayer is not the same as secular forms of meditation. I don’t empty my mind. (That would not be good because the enemy would rush in.) Instead, I fill my mind with God and focus on Him: “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” — 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NKJV).

When distractions come – and they always seem to multiply when I sit down for centering prayer – I simply re-focus and re-center myself on God each time. Not a bad way to spend 20 minutes … or 10 … or 5.

I’ve had people ask me if centering prayer is really Christian. Absolutely, it is. The desert fathers and mothers practiced all forms of contemplative prayer, including centering prayer, in the 4th century of the early Church. They did this because they felt that the Church had become institutionalized (sound familiar?) and had lost touch with simple devotional practices of relationship with God. Contrary to common misperceptions, the desert fathers and mothers did not remove themselves from the Church. They remained active in the Church community and were influential toward leadership, pouring wisdom and the peace of the Holy Spirit into the Church.

Imagine if the Church today made centering prayer and other forms of contemplative prayer a daily practice. It makes my heart glad to see that more gatherings of the Church are beginning to do so. God bless them. It all starts with each one of us deciding to spend quiet time in God’s presence every day.

Just simply being with Him.

God bless your day.

Really Present, Really Listening

A classmate shared today about an interview with Mother Theresa, in which she was asked about her prayer life with God. When asked what she said in prayer, she answered, “Nothing. I listen.” When asked what God said, she answered, “Nothing. He listens.”

How powerful and true. Often we are taught (though don’t necessarily “do”) to listen in prayer, but often we forget that God also listens. So often we are waiting for God to speak, but how much more comes from His listening. How amazing that the creator of the universe wants to listen to us! I also love contemplative prayer, in which we just sit with God, not even listening, but just being.

This also makes me think of how our prayer time with God is a model for how we spend time with others. Do we have conversations in which we really listen to the other person, and are fully present with the other person? So often, we are partly listening, partly thinking what we want to say, and partly thinking through our grocery list in our head.

How much more vibrant would the kingdom of God be if we learn how to listen and be present with others?

We can begin to learn this by being fully present and listening in prayer with God.

Would You Like God’s Undivided Attention?

The reality is – we’ve got it. God’s undivided attention. Every minute of every day. Amazing, isn’t it? The creator of the universe is focused totally on you, right this minute. And every minute. He is always here, and you have His undivided attention at all times.

The problem comes because we are not always aware of His presence, or His attention. Our attention gets divided by so many things.

Does this mean God wants us all sitting on stumps, just looking at Him all day? Does it mean God doesn’t want us doing things, or paying attention to people? Granted, at some moments or seasons of our life, He might have us spend much more quiet time with Him. But most of the time, He gives us things to do. And He gives us people to be with. We get to share His love with people. We get to remind others, through our own actions and words, that He is real, and He is here.

But often, in the midst of our interactions with others, and our daily activities, we forget He is here. We forget to look for Him – intentionally – and to see Him everywhere, in everything, in everyone.

My intercessor friends and I have talked about how God will wake us up in the middle of the night to pray. Or talk loudly to us in the shower. Why does He do this? I don’t know for sure. But one idea I have is that these are times when He has our undivided attention. When we can hear Him clearly because we are not distracted.

As I mentioned this to one friend, she wondered if maybe we should focus on being more attentive to God during the day. I couldn’t agree more.

How do we do this?

1. Start the day with Him. I know mornings can be busy, and for me, mornings are my worst time of the day. I feel sluggish and disoriented. But what better time to express our need for God? Even five minutes of just sitting quietly with Him, just “being,” can make all the difference for the rest of our day.

2. Expect to see Him. Throughout the day. Keep looking for Him. Stay aware of Him. Notice when you see Him in someone, in some place, in some situation.

3. Talk to Him. Be available to Him. Let Him know He is the most important part of your day. Be attentive to what He says to you, or shows you. Write it down – keep a journal with you, or use the “notes” on your phone. Acknowledge Him, throughout your day. Thank Him for being with you.

We have God’s undivided attention. We need to give Him ours.

What is one simple way you can stay more attuned to God and give Him more attention today?

Please let me know what you come up with, and how it goes, how it changes your day. I would love to hear!

Why It Is Vital to Hold Still

Have you ever tried to keep a puppy quiet when he was awake and ready for action? Impossible, isn’t it? Sometimes I think that’s how we must appear to God.

When we set out to live a life of prayer, walking and talking with God, there are times we absolutely must hold still.

In Psalm 46:10, God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Did you know that being still is a form of prayer? It is a form of communicating and interacting with God. When we are still, He is not. He is working on us from the inside out, doing all kinds of things we can’t comprehend … and some things we can comprehend, like recalibrating us, healing us, redirecting us, tending His garden in our hearts.

Centering prayer is one way to “be still” before God. We can learn more about this from the fourth century Desert Fathers and Mothers.

But even without reading a book, God can also teach us to be still.

About ten years ago, I lived in Russia as a visiting university lecturer. I lived in Siberia and traveled on occasion to Moscow and to other cities where I gave guest lectures. Conditions were rough, and I became injured a lot, and encountered many exhausting situations. I found myself very often going to some place in the city, like the river in Moscow, or someplace with a view, wherever I was, and just standing and staring. Not staring at anything in particular; just holding perfectly still and “being.” I did this so often, and I credit having done this with the fact that I remained sane, no matter what happened.

It wasn’t until much later, when I learned about contemplative prayer, that I realized God was teaching me to be still. I needed those times of just “being,” so He could recalibrate me and keep me on course, no matter what craziness was going on around me.

Today I find myself doing the same. But more intentionally. I have to take time out each day, and sometimes more than once, throughout the day, to just be still. When I do, I intentionally surrender to God, and invite Him to be in that moment with me. I don’t talk to Him, or listen, or approach Him with my concerns or any kind of agenda. That’s not what “being still” is all about. Instead I just purpose myself to sit with Him, quietly, just aware of His presence and nothing more.

I know He is there, and I know He is doing things in my heart, because I can feel the difference later in the day. But in that moment, all I purpose to do is just “be” with Him.

It makes all the difference in the world.

Have you tried to just sit with God, quietly, no agenda, just “being” present with Him?

It’s not easy to do, in our world of distractions and rambling thoughts. But try it. Even if you can sustain it only for a minute, try it. Even if you have to keep bringing your thoughts back to silence, try it. Submit quietly to God. Tell Him you want to just sit in His presence. Invite Him to join you, and just be with Him.

You will come to appreciate these times of stillness before God. You will find yourself wanting, needing to do this more and more.

Keep the Reservoir Pure

Ever since I took a class on Christian History in seminary two summers ago, I have been fascinated with the Desert Fathers and Mothers. These were the Christians who, after Rome made Christianity a “state religion,” went into the desert to seek spiritual purity directly from God. They felt that “official Christianity” was becoming diluted from the pure relationship Jesus taught.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers did not go into the desert to escape fellowship, nor did they leave the church. Rather, they sought God, asking Him to purify their hearts for the sake of fellowship and God’s mission in the world. They had a vibrant desert community of faith, and they also stayed actively engaged with the surrounding Christian churches. They sought to bring the pure ways and accountability of Christian discipleship and the presence of the Holy Spirit back into a church that was vulnerable to Roman political and secular influences.

I have long related to these desert aesthetes. We all have a spiritual yearning for finding a quiet place with God. The Desert Fathers and Mothers practiced this quiet time with God through meditation, sometimes referred to as “centering prayer.” For the past two years I have been reading the writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers and practicing (or trying to) centering prayer.

I find particularly relevant for today the Desert Fathers’ and Mothers’ practice of giving full focus to whatever you are doing at the moment – whether it’s praying or working or resting – and not letting your mind wander. The problem with mind-wandering is those negative, destructive, or even just distracting thoughts that enter in.

That’s one thing I struggle with, and before I realize it, I’ve allowed muck to creep into my spiritual reservoir. Then one little things goes wrong, and I go into a tailspin. I’d like to keep my reservoir pure. When something goes wrong, I’d like to approach it from a place of peace: the peace that only Christ brings.

I am asking God to help me with this – including to see if there are roots that need to be dealt with. But I think part of my vulnerability isn’t so much deep roots or doors open to the enemy. I think this is more just my daily practice of letting my mind wander. I see it even when I’m praying quietly with God and stray thoughts creep in. It’s like setting out fly paper for not only my own thoughts, but also the “thoughts” that the enemy will toss my way.

I am asking God to help me “practice His presence” in all that I do, and stay focused on whatever task He has given me in the moment, and not let my thoughts wander. Instead, I ask that God help me live in a place of His presence and peace, bringing my thoughts captive and obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). What better way to draw closer to God than to focus on Him in all we live, say, and do.

Holding onto Peace

I felt so tired tonight and I asked God why. Why should I be this tired on a Monday? He gently reminded me of my meltdown this morning. He’s told me that a lot lately. I lack energy for no apparent reason. I’m healthy. I’m resting. I’ve resumed my spiritual disciplines. I’m taking regular sabbatical time. I continually sift through the things I do, to be sure I’m only doing what God would have me do. Everything should be great. I shouldn’t get this tired.

He reminded me that every time I have a meltdown, every time I worry, every time I fail to trust Him … even for 10 minutes … I exhaust my energy. I can’t keep doing that. He’s said it before and He said it again tonight. It’s not what I do, it’s how I do it that costs me.

I can’t keep climbing out of that place of peace and rest in God. I have to stay in His rest. I have to learn not to react, not to worry, not to fret, not to melt down.

He often reminds me of the sea of glass around His throne. The sea of glass has no waves or ripples. It is undisturbed. It is a place of perfect peace. That sea of glass must be felt and seen around me as well. I must abide in Him, and stay in His rest and peace.

I can only do that through His help. And so I’m asking, “Lord, please help me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”