Do you ever get frustrated in your prayer life? Like you know prayer is important but can’t quite figure out how to do it right? Not going to lie, I’ve been there more times than I can count. Today, I thought I’d share a little about my own journey with contemplative prayer and why I think it’s so worth the effort.
My soul resonates with the idea of the contemplative life because I long for more of God. Being contemplative is simply about awakening the soul to the things of God in all aspects of life. I love how the disciplines practiced in contemplative prayer help cultivate intimacy and communion with God. It’s about being, not doing. What if your prayer life was less about ticking the boxes and more about rest and trust?
I began a journey with God, more than a decade ago, which focused on what it means to trust and rest with God. Many lessons have been learned, and many more to come, I am sure, but lately, He’s been inviting me to come just as I am. I know, that should be obvious, but embracing myself as He created me has been hard.
I believe that God wants us to come with honest humility, but how do you do that if you don’t know how to be really real? Lately, I’ve been experimenting with combining contemplative prayer and my art journal, which has turned out to be an unexpected gift. Why? Because it helps create space to just be with God in a way that is authentic and real.
What is prayer?
Scripture tells us over and over again that prayer is important and that we need to do it.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, praying about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.Philippians 4:6
Never stop praying.1 Thessalonians 5:17
One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.Luke 18:1
It’s important, no doubt about it, but have you ever stopped to think about why it’s so important? I came across this definition, which has been super helpful to me in cultivating this part of my life.
Prayer is a word that describes a relationship. Disciplines of prayer provide patterns for attending to God throughout the day.
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook | Practices that transform us, Downers Grove, Il.: Intervarsity Press. p.203
When prayer defines our relationship with God it changes things. It’s not just something we do, it’s how we exist with him. Existing is about life, and if we are going to commune with God, we can’t expect to keep the masks and facades in place. Contemplative prayer offers us a way to go deeper.
What is contemplative prayer?
Contemplative prayer is more about the posture than it is about the form. It’s about being awake and aware of God’s presence and movement in the intimate place of prayer. This sacred space isn’t about striving and earning, it’s about resting.
There are many ways that we can pray to God. They all look a little different, but that doesn’t mean one way is better than the other. You see, at the very heart of it all, prayer is worship. The way we pray is just a vehicle for the heart and posture of the soul as we connect and commune with God.
Intercessory prayer will look very different than fixed-hour prayer, but when the motivation is about connecting and resting with the Father, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes, though, we are too singularly fixed on the task of praying than on resting in the presence of God. When we become fixed on the requests and prayer petitions, prayer can quickly become just busy activity.
Contemplative prayer is a way of being with God that does not depend on giving the holy One information about what we would like done in the world. Just as friends can enjoy one another without conversing, contemplative prayer is a way of being with God without wordiness. In contemplative prayer, we rest and wait.
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook | Practices that transform us, Downers Grove, Il.: Intervarsity Press. p.212
How to do it
My own journey with contemplative prayer has taken me into some different places. As I said earlier, when the motivation of the heart is to rest with God, any form of prayer can be contemplative.
Over the years I’ve used disciplines like solitude, breath prayers, and centering prayer to help cultivate rest with the Lord. When I first gave my life to Jesus, I journaled all my prayers. The discipline of writing them down helped me to stay focused and attentive, but it also slowed me down enough to be able to listen. The practice of stopping and seeing what I had written created a place for conversation and contemplation.
I remember one summer during our beach vacation, my Mom, who is Spiritual Director, introduced me and my then 7-year-old to praying in color. It was a refreshing way to experience the LORD over his word, which forever changed how I see prayer. Oh, and how fun it was teaching my girl how she could learn how to listen to the voice of God.
If you’ve spent any amount of time on Pinterest I’m sure you’ve seen the whole Bible Journaling craze. I’ll be honest, all of that is pretty new to me, but the idea of connecting with God utilizing a gift and skill he planted in me is really inviting. I’m not skilled in art techniques, but I am creative. And so it’s from that place that I have jumped in combining art and contemplative prayer as I go deeper with God.
Who are you? How are you wired? What is the easiest way to really connect and commune with the Father? When you know that you will find countless ways to just be with God in prayer.
Art (in all its forms)
Playing an instrument
Remember, contemplative prayer is about being present with God. Imagine how you can waste time with God, just like Mary did when she emptied her jar of alabaster oil on the feet of Jesus (Luke 7:36-38).
What contemplative prayer produces
Human nature looks for the easy way. Now, I’m not convinced that’s inherently wrong. You’ve heard the adage, “Work smarter not harder,” right? There is wisdom in that application for many things in this life, but there are no shortcuts in worship. In my opinion, contemplative prayer is worth every effort because of what it produces.
Spiritual disciplines are tools, that’s it. They are practical exercises that help train us to love God and love others. The discipline of contemplative prayer helps us tune our hearts to the heart of the Father.
The fruit of this practice develops a rich prayer-life that depends on trust rather than manipulation tactics. Does that sound offensive? The reality is, we do often come to God with a plan to push and secure our own agenda. Contemplative prayer helps us assume a posture that trusts and is open to the will of the Father.
Contemplative prayer cultivates an environment of awareness of the presence of God, moving the soul from doing to being. Another benefit is the development of learning how to release all the distractions that bombard the mind during prayer. Doesn’t that sound awesome?
The final benefit is deep intimacy. Fully loving God happens in response to the way He loves us first. Letting God love us is critical because we need that to love Him. It’s all based on the intimacy of trust and surrender.
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.Romans 8:26-27, Message
I don’t know about you, but leaning into the presence of God by way of contemplative prayer has eased much of the self-imposed pressure of trying to perform religious duty. There is no doubt I still have much to learn, but I can testify that this practice has been worth the effort in my relationship with the LORD.
If this is a new idea for you and you would like to try incorporating the contemplative prayer into your life, I invite you to sign-up for my weekly devotional, called The Grace Notes. It is specifically designed with the contemplative journey in mind!
Also, I’ve gathered some links to past blog posts on prayer that I think you will find helpful too!