Praying To Discover

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Contemplative Prayer Helps Us Let Go Of Burdens To Find Blessings

by Eric Elkin

I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks.
— Ephesians 1:16 (The Message)

Early in the morning, when the world outside is still, I start my day in prayer. The headphones on my ears block out noises within the house while filling my mind with the music from the Taize Community in France. My eyes are closed, and my breathing deliberately slow. In my head, I speak over and over the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Several years ago, a friend who found contemplative prayer a great source of healing encouraged me to consider the practice. At the time, I practiced a more traditional style of prayer. I kept a list of people and needs to pray for, reviewed the list, and then prayed through it. It helped me remain connected to the needs of the people, as well as be an active participant in their healing.

The downside of praying through a list was it reminded me of the "to do list" which was not getting done. A prayer for someone unable to attend church reminded me of worship attendance. Worship attendance reminded me of an outreach program not started. Soon I found myself anxious and unable to maintain focus. A sudden desire to fix every broken thing replaced my sense of spiritual peace.

Contemplative prayer was different. Instead of a list, one prays a centering prayer. The combination of sitting in a relaxed position, a focus on breathing, and the words of the prayer calms even the most anxious soul. When a person or concern arises in my head, I pray it and then let it go. The ultimate desire is not speaking to a distant God, but to feel God's presence within the person praying.

Every [person] who delights in a multitude of words, even though [they] say admirable things, is empty within. If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and will deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance.
— Isaac of Nineveh, a Syrian monk

This morning my centering prayer was based on 1 Corinthians 2:12. "We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God." Relaxing and breathing, I prayed this simple prayer over and over. Like most mornings, calm descended upon my heart and mind. 

I believe this centering prayer pulled this one sentence out of my daily reading in Ephesians and called it to my attention. "I couldn't stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I'd think of you and give thanks." 

One of the most powerful lessons I learned from disciplined prayer is the benefit of praying for your enemies. Or, at least, praying for good things to happen to those who have hurt you or just ticked you off. It turns out, praying for my enemies helped me see all the beautiful people in my life. Praying for my enemies removed their power over me and freed me to see the power of God working within me.

The spirit of this world would have me scheme some sort of revenge or at least glory in the demise of my enemies. If this were to happen, what would be the cost to me? Can someone's suffering, even that of an enemy, ever really be a source of joy?

The spirit of this world would also have us think we are isolated and alone. So many people I interviewed for the Ordinary Voices podcast shared stories about people feeling lost and alone. Each time, these same lonely people discovered they were not alone, but filled with people will to help.

Prayer helps the person who is being prayed for find healing. It also helps the person praying to discover the abundance of gifts in their lives. The gifts which have been freely given by God. When the praying heart discovers the magnitude of this abundance, it cannot help but give thanks.


Click to read Ephesians 1: 11-23

Reflection Questions:

  • What do imagine a healthy prayer life to look like?

  • Does the thought of silence comfort you or make you feel uncomfortable ?

  • When have you felt words escape you when trying to pray?

  • How can praying for your enemies be a source of healing?

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