by Fr. Bob Wild.
If God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), then the truth must be something simple and understandable by everyone. And if he desires us to pray, prayer must be simple, too.
I am going to tell you about a simple, basic way of praying with the Scriptures that Christians have been using for hundreds of years.
It was the only method used by the great heroes and heroines of the desert and early monastic tradition. It is the method the Holy Spirit has taught ordinary Christians down through the ages. It is a way that is available to everyone.
But before I do that, I wish to emphasize that the most important thing about prayer is not method. The most important thing is having the courage to face God, and the love and generosity which allows him to transform our lives.
Many of us are so familiar with the Bible that we could quote large chunks of it by heart. But if we took just one phrase and let it sink deeply into our hearts, it would revolutionize our lives.
The Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me, a sinner) is the best example of this. But one can pray other phrases over and over as well.
I believe; help my unbelief (Mk 9:24). In God alone is my soul at rest. My hope lies in him (Ps 61:2). Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy, for in you my soul has taken refuge (Ps 56:2). O give thanks to the Lord for he is good. For his love endures forever (Ps 106).
Any one of these words of life, and countless others as well, have the power to transform our hearts if we let them.
What, then, is this simple method which is available to all? It is a method of praying with the Scriptures.
The Scriptures are God speaking to us, forming our attitudes, our desires, our thoughts, our hopes. We listen to his words; then we speak to him. That’s all we need to know about prayer.
When we pray with the Bible, we are primarily seeking "soul food." We seek to feed our hearts on the simplicity of God’s Word which, at one level, needs no explanation except what comes from God to an open heart.
Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will refresh you (Mt 11:28). Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29) Look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. See how your heavenly Father takes care of them. Are you not worth much more than they are? (cf Mt 6:28).
The Bible is full of such soul food, and it is the Holy Spirit himself who instructs us on the meaning of such words for our lives.
We can look to the Bible to change us. We are not looking here for a simple change of consciousness. Consciousness can change and our lives remain the same. What we desire in confronting the Word is a change of heart, "a strength."
I love you, Lord, my strength
(Ps 17:2). This is a beautiful and perfect little prayer. Memorize it. Let it sing in your heart. Let it become one of your heart beats.
Because we are so complicated, we have the notion that this can’t be all there is to it. It’s too simple. But it is all there is to it.
Jesus said when you pray don’t use a lot of words. This prayer—I love you, Lord, my strength, my rock, my fortress, my savior—coming from a loving heart, is a perfect prayer.
After we repeat and pray phrases such as this, the presence of him to whom we are speaking comes over us. We rest in that presence. We are not straining to achieve it. It is simply there as a result of our conversation. This is contemplation.
"But isn’t it more complex than that?" No, it isn’t.
As I am writing this, I open my Bible. This is the text my eyes fall upon: See what days are coming—it is the Lord who speaks—days when I will bring a famine on the country, a famine not of bread, a drought not of water, but of hearing the word of God (Amos 8: 11).
What a powerful image! I let my mind think about these words for a bit. "Yes, God’s Word is the greatest need of our souls. We live by meaning, and his Word feeds this deepest need in our souls."
Then I pray: "Lord, how many people on the earth are not hearing your Word. There really is a famine of your Word. Give me a stronger faith to speak that Word to others. Give courage to preachers and ministers of the Gospel to speak your Word without watering it down. Lord, I hunger for your Word."
Then I just fall silent for a moment, not thinking of anything in particular. God’s Word. A famine. People hungry for meaning in their lives.
A silent plea arises in my heart. I rest for a moment in God’s presence and in wordless aspirations and desires that the famine be over.
Then I go on to another text.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord. All my being bless his holy name. My soul, give thanks to the Lord, and never forget all his blessings (Ps. 102:1-2).
Often I am led to repeat beautiful lines like this over and over again.
Because they are the Word of God, they have power to effect what they say. If you allow these words to take hold of your heart, little by little, your soul will give thanks to the Lord.
If you relish them, more and more of your being will bless his holy name. If you thirst for these words, little by little you will remember all the good things he has done for you.
It is he who forgives all your guilt, who heals every one of your ills (v. 3). This time I am led to pray: "Yes, Lord, whatever healing has ever taken place in my heart, I believe you have done it. Only you can heal my heart. Only you can forgive since it is against you and you alone that I have sinned."
That’s enough. That’s a beautiful prayer. We don’t have to go on and on. The Lord is not impressed by our great imaginative prayers but by the desires of our hearts.
Short prayers, inspired by the Word of God, coming from our hearts—these captivate God’s heart because they are according to his own heart.
How truly beautiful the sentiments of the Psalms and the Scriptures really are! And over a long period of time, such prayers are capable of forming in us the proper sentiments and attitudes of the soul in God’s presence.
O God, you are my God, for you I long. My body pines for you like a dry weary land without water (Ps 62:2-3).
You can simply repeat these beautiful words over and over again.
Then when the realization dawns on you that these sentiments do not go very deep into your heart—that they are more like mere words that you are repeating with your mind—at that point, real prayer begins. Let me explain.
Salvation has everything to do with a change of heart. We know it is relatively easy to change our minds; what we long for is a change of heart.
We want to experience in our depths that God is our God. We want to seek him and thirst for him. We don’t just want to say these words with our lips. We all know the difference.
It is then we cry out with an ache that comes from our depths, "God, I don’t really thirst for you with all my heart."
This cry is like a spiritual pain. We begin to search our lives for ways of helping to make these lofty sentiments a reality.
What are we doing that is blocking this realization from taking hold of our hearts?
No method of prayer can effect this change. No simple change of ideas. No resolution will do it.
All these things may help. But prayer has to do with experiencing that only God can change our hearts—that only God saves.
Unless we know this, struggle with it, learn how to wait for God’s salvation, we don’t know what prayer is.
"Jesus, I admit that you are not enough for me. I still want many things besides you. I don’t know how much power of your resurrection I can stand! But Lord, come anyhow! My deep soul longs for you. It’s only my superficial self that recoils from your presence. Yes, Jesus, come."
Then we rest for a moment in the Presence of Christ and adore in silence.
If we do this with the Scriptures over a long period of time, our hearts will change.
My Word will not return to me void (Isaiah 55:11). And: That he will come is as certain as the dawn (Hosea 6:3).
Moreover, if we allow the Word to enter our hearts, the Spirit will reveal to us things in our lives which do not coincide with the Word. And through the Christian combat and the grace of God, our lives will change.
As our lives change, our spiritual vision will change. Then, when we return again to the Word of God, we will see new things and utter new prayers and rest in new embraces. There is no end to this cycle.
The Scriptures contain springboards for every aspiration of our hearts and they contain all the truths we need to have the mind of Christ formed in us. They are the inexhaustible fountain of prayer.
The simple method of prayer I have described—which is, after all, the most traditional method of all—is capable of leading us to the depths of life with God. "Lord, teach us to pray." He has. He will. Do you really want to learn?
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