Pray, Read the Bible and Meditate
One of the identifiers of a disciple (see Three Identifiers of Disciple) is being with the Rabbi every minute of the days. The disciples of antiquity would leave everything they had to follow their teacher. They would then live with their teacher, spending all their time with him.
Unlike the disciples of antiquity, our teacher is not physically here. (note: Although we can be discipled by someone in the church, we are not a disciple of them but Jesus). However, we do have the Helper — the Holy Spirit — that is with us always (see John 14:16 & 26; 15:26; 16:7; 16:13). When we are with Jesus, we are not only with him but also with the Father and Holy Spirit. From this point onward, I use God to reflect on us being with the Trinity in the practices mentioned.
In The Great Omission, Dallas Willard states, "The first and most basic thing we can and must do is to keep God before our minds. This is the fundamental secret of caring for our souls. Our part in thus practicing the presence of God is to direct and redirect our minds constantly to Him. In the early time of our "practicing" we may well be challenged by our burdensome habits of dwelling on things less than God. But these are habits — not the law of gravity — and can be broken. A new, grace-filled habit will replace the former ones as we take intentional steps toward keeping God before us. Soon our minds will return to God as the needle of a compass constantly returns to the north. If God is the great longing of our souls, He will become the pole star of our inward beings."
Distraction has been a constant issue throughout history and is only growing. We are programmed for distraction. Our attention is a valuable resource for business. In an average week, research has discovered that the average user pickups their phone more than 1,500 times a week. The average owner uses this device for three hours and sixteen minutes each day — or the equivalent of almost one full day a week. Add this to the television watched (35.5 hours/week average) and the constant bombarding of advertising outside of a screen. It has become unnatural to be still, silent and concentrated.
With all of this distraction, we often run out of time for any meaningful time with God. We often speak of our devotional or quiet time, but even this has become something to be fit into a busy day. There is "all too often there is a massive disconnect between "spiritual life" and life." We spend 5–30mins a morning with God (most often less) and continue with our life. How can we expect to live 'complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God' (Ephesians 3:19 NLT) if we spend approximately 58 hours and 20 minutes distracted by screens and only minimal time with God? Jesus calls us to flow Him and to be with Him every minute of the day.
"All too often there is a massive disconnect between "spiritual life" and life." ― John Mark Comer, Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.
Practising the Presence of God
In the Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrance says, "Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave him not alone." We need to continually practise the presence of God in the spiritual disciplines below but even more so in our day to day work. The practices that I will discuss are a means to an end. They are intended to bring you closer to God. Some may work for you; some may not. As with the many spiritual disciplines, if they do not create Christlikeness in you, they should be discontinued. We must remember that spiritual practices (or disciplines) do not make us righteous; it is only through Christ; we are made righteous.
Prayer can be difficult to many but is a natural response. Even the Atheist will send out a prayer when in trouble. This often is in the form of a loud "Help!" when there is no one else around. However, we can often pray and feel like God is distant. Moreover, many treat prayer like a Christmas list, giving God all of our requests and expecting them to come to fruition.
Tim Keller in Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God states, "The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life… "Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a 'house of prayer'), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer. He prayed often and regularly with fervent cries and tears (Heb. 5:7), and sometimes all night. The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21–22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29). When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer. We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1–26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, he died praying." We can see the prayer was central to Jesus' Ministry and should be central to us.
When we pray, we pray by the Holy Spirit, through the name of Jesus, to God the Father. Prayer is occupied with the Trinity. In prayer, we experience the relational love of the Divine Dance. "To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all seeing within you," said Theophan the Recluse.
1.1. Breathe Prayer
The desire of the Breathe Prayer is to pray a heartfelt, simple prayer of longing for a relationship with God. Many in the global church, especially the Eastern Orthodox Church, have practised this for millennia. This prayer responds to Paul's instruction to "pray without ceasing" 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18. When praying the "breathe prayer", a simple sentence is repeated as you breathe in and out.
Examples of Breathe Prayer
Breathe in "Abba," breathe out "I belong to you."
Breathe in "Holy one." breathe out "keep me true."
Breathe in "Jesus", breathe out "I give it all to you."
1.2. Fixed Hour Prayer
Fixed hour pray is the intentional and consistent stopping of work to fix ones attention on God during the day. The interrupting nature of this type of prayer is intended to bring ones regularly focus on God.
Benedicts Liturgy of the Hours consists of eight sessions of prayer every twenty-four hours. Benedict believed that everything was in God's hands, from work to prayer. He stated, "To pray is to work, to work is to pray", and Benedictine monks, as well as many others, continue to punctuate their days in prayer. These prayer times are:
Vigils — night prayer
Lauds — waking up prayer
Prime — prayers for beginning work
Terce — giving-thanks prayers in the morning
Sext — noon-day prayers
None — Mid-afternoon prayers
Vespers — evening prayer of stillness
Compline — going to sleep prayer of trust
The list of fixed-hour prayers can be daunting to look at, but as, with any new habit, we must start where we are and grow from there. Start with one time and add another in a month and so on. You don't need to do all prayers, but the idea is to keep God in the centre of your day. Setting a reminder for each prayer on your phone can be helpful.
1.3. Liturgical Prayer
Liturgical prayer desires an openness to God through established traditional prayer and readings. This type of prayer uses scripture, prayers and words of the church that are intentional and not ad hoc. Grounded in repetition, liturgy is not improvised. These prayers have a firm grounding in scripture are profound in meaning. Liturgical traditions have vast prayers that take people through the redemption story.
Example of Liturgical Prayer for Ash Wednesday:
"Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have
made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and
make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen." — Book of Common Prayer
There are many different ways and types of prayer, in addition to the ones mentioned, such as centring prayer, contemplative prayer, conversational prayer, fasting (I will write on this later), inner-healing prayer, intercessory prayer, labyrinth (or pilgrimage) prayer, praying scripture, prayer of recollection and prayer walking. Each of these styles of prayer is used by some traditions and not used by others. Unfortunately, in many contemporary movements, traditional prayer is shunned altogether.
I started to use liturgical prayer two years ago and have found that it has given me grounding in my prayer life. Liturgical prayer has a deep richness and fulness that we can often miss out on.
I found breathing prayer especially helpful directly after my youngest son's birth when he was rushed to the special care nursery due to complications. the repetitive slow breathing prayer of (breathing in) "Jesus" (breathing out) "I give everything to you." It was helpful as it kept me focusing on Him and letting go of what I could not control.
Fixed hour prayer has also helped (not all eight times) focus my attention on God. I must admit, though, I miss more than I do.
Other Resources on Prayer
Prayer is such a vast topic to tackle and is something that we grow in. The following are recommended books on prayer:
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God states by Tim Keller
Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight by J.I. Packer
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us, Part 7 by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle
2. Reading Scripture
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul said, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 16–17, NIV). The scriptures have had great importance for many Millenia to the Jews, Christians and even Muslims.
Our God is a God of words and communication. He speaks through the written word (the Bible), spoken word, and incarnate word. God speaks to us through His written word, revealing his character, our sin, and our redemption and adoption through his Son. We can engage with His word in many ways. As for the different types of prayer, some may work and be beneficial for you, but some may not be at this time. However, I encourage you to try each one but only one at a time. Do not try to do them all at once.
2.1. Bible Study
As we are disciples of Jesus, we must be students of His Word. "We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior," says John Stott. We are to engage our minds and focus our attention on the scriptures, attempting to understand and apply them to our lives. Bible study is more than just reading the text; you engage with the text within its context, both historically and scripturally. Going to bible classes, whether formal or informal, can be very helpful.
Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods:
Tools to help with Bible Study:
biblehub.com has excellent resources, especially for word studies
A good Study Bible. I generally use the New International Version or New King James Version Study Bibles.
2.2. Devotional Reading
Devotional reading is one of the most common ways contemporary Christians engage with their Bible. It requires an open and reflective posture that is tuned to the voice of God. Devotional reading is more about growing in a relationship than academic study. You can find devotionals that take less than five minutes to complete. These do not develop depth or relationship with God. In Devotional reading, you should:
Prayerfully read the text.
Listen deeply for God speaking to you.
Seek to be transformed by it.
The S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer) is a popular devotional method. You can also find published devotions in print or on the YouVersion Bible app. However, be careful in your devotionals selection by ensuring there is a balanced amount of scripture and thought. Too often, devotionals can be loosely based on one verse and then have paragraphs of someones thought about it.
In Jewish tradition, boys memorised all of the Torah by the time they were ten. Dallas Willard states, "It is better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than to have every word of the bible flash before our eyes." Charles Spurgeon was also a great proponent of scripture memorisation, stating, "The Bible in the memory is better than the Bible in the bookcase. And "It is well to have a good memory, and that is the best memory which remembers what is best worth remembering."
Bible Memorisation Method and Resources
One Bible memorisation method that I have used is to read the text ten times, read it aloud ten times and then write it twice. The Topical Memory System by NavPress is an excellent resource for memorising specific scriptures.
We often think of meditation being something related to Buddhism and New Age gurus. However, it is found as the core of Jedeo-Christian spirituality. Christian meditation opens the mind to God rather than empty it to nothing. Meditation is training the mind to be fixed on God.
"A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognise it. God Himself is here waiting for our response to His presence. This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to reckon upon its reality." — A.W. Tozer.
Great Christian Meditation Apps
Soultime (I use this one)
Whispers from God
Each of the Spiritual Disciplines — Prayer, Scripture, Meditation — should be mutually inclusive. They can be done at a different time, but all disciplines should be practised in unity. Issues can and will occur if only one is focused on. Each practice needs the other to be effective. Remember not to do every practice at once and discontinue any practice that does not work for you and bring you closer in your relationship with God. William Law gives an ample warning, "Reading is good, hearing is good, conversation and meditation are good; but then, they are only good at times and occasions, in a certain degree, and must be used and governed with such caution as we eat and drink and refresh ourselves, or they will bring forth in us the fruits of intemperance."
Each Discipline is a means to an end. We do not read the Bible to read the Bible but read the Bible to grow closer to God. I will leave you with yet another Dallas Willard quote:
"The general human failing is to want what is right and important, but at the same time not to commit to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right and the condition we want to enjoy. This is the feature of human character that explains why the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We intend what is right, but we avoid the life that would make it reality." ― Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives
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