If you want to be more like Christ, try “hanging out” with him more often
So I owe you another column on prayer, don’t I?
Last time, we talked about why we pray. Prayer isn’t about obligation, about “saying your prayers” and getting enough words in to earn points with God. Prayer is about relationship – about being with the One who loves us. And He does love us – madly and passionately. He delights in our company. He wants us to come to Him.
Yes, prayer is about deepening that relationship. But that’s only the beginning. Through that relationship, we change. You know that old saying “I can tell who you are by the company you keep”? Nowhere is that more true than in the spiritual life. Spending time with God makes us more like God. Spending time with Christ makes us more Christ-like.
How does that work? Several ways. First of all, there’s the time we spend prayerfully meditating on His Word in Scripture. The goal of any relationship is to get to know the other better, right? But that’s a little tricky with God, since we can’t just go out for coffee with Him and chat about every little thing. Oh, He comes along whenever we go out for coffee. And He listens when we chat about every little thing. But the two-way communication gets a little tricky, what with God being primarily spirit and all. It’s hard to hear Him when He talks back.
That’s why, to learn about Him, we need to study is revelation to us – the Scriptures. He wants us to know Him – enough that He revealed Himself to His chosen people, and later came down to earth to introduce Himself in person and save us from the mess we’d gotten ourselves into. And, so that people of all generations could know Him, he gave us a divinely inspired record of His revelation – the Sacred Scriptures.
So reading the Scriptures is kind of like chatting with God at the coffee shop. It’s the best way to get to know Him as He really is. It’s the best assurance we have that the God we know and understand in our heads is the real God, and not just someone we’ve made up in our heads and we’re calling “God.”
Thus the importance of reading Scripture prayerfully. When we sit in His presence and ask for His grace, He speaks to us through His Word. And that helps us to know Him better.
Prayer also changes our will. Most of us pray when we want something. We beg and plead and grovel and make all kinds of promises if God will just give us this one tiny little request. And there’s nothing really wrong with that. God wants us to come to Him with our needs. Jesus told all kinds of parables about people knocking and nagging.
But prayer is much more than a 1-800-CALL GOD request line. He doesn’t always give us what we want. But He gives us what we need – and He knows much better than we do what that is.
So implicit in any prayer is asking God to bend our will to His. We want what we want because we want it. He sees the big picture, and knows what is really best for us. That may not be what we want at the moment. But given how much He loves us, we can be sure that what we really should want is what He wants for us.
So prayer builds our relationship with God. It helps us to get to know Him, and it makes us more like Him. Essentially, in prayer, God gives us gifts. Graces. And that’s good.
All of which leads to the question: how should we pray?
This is the part I always struggled with. What am I supposed to be doing while I’m praying? How do I keep my mind from wandering? What is supposed to be happening? Am I supposed to be having some kind of ecstatic mystical experience like the saints were always having?
This is one area where spiritual direction has really helped me. First of all, my primary prayer time doesn’t happen at home any more. It happens in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. As my spiritual director told me, “The wall doesn’t become Jesus.” The Blessed Sacrament does. I’m physically with Him.
What do you do when you’re there? It almost doesn’t matter. Sit in His presence. Talk to Him – about what you’re feeling, what you’re struggling with, what’s going on in your life. Tell him about your loved ones. Sit in silence and listen to Him. Say prayers that help you focus on Him. Read Scripture. Read the works of the saints. Write in a prayer journal.
Most importantly, don’t worry too much about it. Just show up. Try to go every day if you can. Stay long enough (at least 15 minutes) to let your mind slow down and focus on Him. Don’t go looking for great spiritual experiences. Just ask Him to take the lead.
And whether anything “happens” or not, know that you spent time with the One you love -- the One who loves you.