Prayer is, at root, simply paying attention to God – Flannery O’Connor
I was going to end with the above quote as an afterthought but decided it should be the in the forefront of what I want to talk about.
Prayer has not been the strongest area of my life. The way I was taught to pray never fully resonated with me. Prayer was something you said in words or waited on God in quiet to speak to you in scripture, more words. Not that there is anything wrong with that but that was all I knew about praying.
I have never been able to grasp the concept of public prayer whether it is me doing the praying or someone else. I know it has its benefits. But for me it never helped in my intimate personal relationship with God. Now don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying there is no place for public prayer or praying using words. I am sure you can remind me of dozens of scripture verses on the subject proving me wrong. That is not what I am trying to convey.
I learned to pray by audibly using words, me talking to God using the language I are familiar with and trying to listen for Gods voice using the means that I was taught and became most comfortable with. Reading. This method became stale over time and it was one that never fully completed my desire of communicating with God.
I have been experiencing a more complete prayer life by using all of the senses that God gave me. Becoming more aware or as Flannery O’Connor stated, “paying attention to God” and I might add by using all of my senses.
Imagine when someone passing you on the street smiles at you. How do you react. Do you smile back or do you put yourself in defensive mode by averting their eyes and ignore the smile. Or could it be God trying to communicate to you by implying, “go ahead, smile back, it will make you feel better and lift your spirits.”
How about the first time holding hands with that boy or girl you really like and getting that tingling feeling that electrifies your whole body and imagine God standing behind you thinking ” Ha, I knew this was a good match”.
The smell of your favorite dish cooking on the stove after a hard day at work, your heart filling with appreciation as you watch your partner scurrying around the kitchen preparing the meal. How did he know I was craving Spaghetti. You can almost see God standing at the stove stirring the pot of sauce and as he looks at you with a cheeky smile not wanting to take all the credit.
Your teenager seemingly going off the rails and your heart is heavy with fear as she runs out of the house slamming the door yelling you’re the worst father in the world. You can envision God following her out the door turning before leaving and giving you a nod as though to say “don’t worry, I got this”.
You laugh uncontrollably at a one liner by a stand up comic and God whispers in your ear, ” You know, I wrote that line for her”.
It would be unforgiving of me to not mention that first sip of coffee in the morning. Savouring the taste and toying with the idea that maybe there will also be coffee in heaven. This time I am reminded of the written word that teaches us to pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Just saying.
So your busy day is done. You are exhausted and it is one of those days when everything that could go wrong does go wrong. As you lie in bed staring at the ceiling with your hands behind your head feeling like a flawed human being. You sigh, hoping that tomorrow will be a better day. On cue, God speaks directly to your heart; “I do my best work with flawed.”
Let’s pay attention to God by using all our senses.
How much do we really know about heaven. There are many accounts of those who say they have been or have had contact with those that have already gone before us. There are thousands of near death experiences of those who left this world for a short time say they went to heaven but had to return because it wasn’t their time for one reason or another. During their brief stay they have tried to put into words what they experienced.
Then there are those who have had dreams about heaven not to mention the multitude of psychics who proclaim their gifts of being able to contact those that have left this world.
There are many movies on heaven with the help of creative minds that has probably given me the most food for thought when it comes to life after death.
Then of course there is the bible. Heaven is mentioned close to six hundred times giving pastors, preachers and teachers of the Good Book thousands of sermons or classes on the subject over time.
I am not a theologian, a psychic nor have I had a near death experience. I have not had any dreams or visions about heaven nor do I see myself understanding completely what the bible teaches about God’s heavenly kingdom.
My thoughts on heaven have come from all the above and I must say I have not drawn any satisfying conclusion to what I believe heaven will be like at least from an earthly physical standpoint.
I have been thinking about heaven on a more consistent basis the last few years for a variety of reasons, one being that I am beginning to feel the finish line is not that far away. It’s probably the only thing we can count on in this life, is that we will die and that something has to happen to us after we die.
Paul stated himself, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable” I Cor 15:19 In other words if we live only for this world and in our service to God only for the benefits that this world has to offer then it will be a un-fulfilling adventure in itself.
When Jesus taught his disciples how we should pray in that infamous sermon on the mount in the book of Matthew, the words, “thy (God’s) will be done in earth as it is in heaven”, a prayer I had read hundreds of times and must have said a thousand times without understanding its relevance.
Maybe heaven is not that far away. Aside from the miraculous spiritual aspect of God giving us a new life physically and a new life born again spiritually then maybe he also wants us to understand the connection between the two.
I have come to believe that in each one of our lives, young or old we are having experiences that gives us a glimpse into what heaven is like. I started thinking of some of the memorable experiences that I have had that could very well be a link between both worlds.
Experiencing the birth of my children has to be way up there.
Holding that child for the first time, sitting on the bed next to my wife with that baby in my arms, his/her eyes still closed but the warmth of our bodies connecting the feeling is actually indescribable. Handing the baby back to its mother and realizing that we have done something special in bringing a new life into the world watching the baby take its first suck of the breast had to be one of the most rewarding times in my life. In retrospect it was far greater than that. God was giving me a glimpse of his will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
When I blurted out, ‘look at what we created’, I now know my wife was gracious in her allowing me to accept some of the credit. My part in that creation was rather small, literally and metaphorically speaking. I can almost see God at each birth looking down on me with a wry smile and his arms folded across his chest, a big sigh and a shake of his head. But he let me think I was king of the mountain even if for only a moment knowing that the baby’s first night home will change my tune.
That is only one little experience in my 67 years on this earth. When I first started writing this post over a week ago I couldn’t get any traction. I finally got the point, this is not about me. This not about how many experiences I have had that could connect heaven and earth. This is about all of us having these earthly experiences that connect us or act as a conduit between heaven and earth that allows God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
I saw a movie recently that the police or security agencies had this software that could take hundreds of partial images from various cameras placed around a city or country. These images were then put up on a large screen in no specific order. Together they looked like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle all jumbled up. None of the pieces were clear enough or gave enough information to give a clear picture of who they were looking for. When they put all these pieces into the program, wallah, they were all pieced together to form one solitary picture of their suspect.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do the same. Take our seemingly insignificant mortal experiences that relate to our connection to heaven and program it to show us a fuller picture.
Individually our experiences along these lines are like a drop in the ocean but together we could probably come up with a fairly good overall picture of what heaven is like through our early experiences. But until then we may need to be sufficiently satisfied with the few that we have individually.
I believe I have had enough of these links to satisfy my curiosity that God will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.
Now I am starting to see my life on earth in a different perspective. Heaven comes to earth everyday. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open to see and experience it.
Have you had a glimpse of heaven?
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, “the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) I am sure he was talking from experience. Peace in our hearts and in our minds at the same time is like taking a vacation in Heaven.
In the early years after the death of my son, peace of mind went missing and my heart was a constant raging sea. Months could pass before experiencing peace that I am sure I had taken for granted my whole life.
Watching my 36-year-old son suffer with bipolar I have failed to understand his pain. When he writes from time to time on his Facebook page that he had a great day and was enjoying peace I started to realize what was important to him.
When my good blogging friend, from Missing Peace struggles to find meaning to life the title of her blog tells it all.
Through my own experience I have learned that peace of mind and heart are as important to the soul as is water, food and sleep to the body. Without them we will not be at our best.
All Paul pointed out, the peace that God gives passes all our understanding. Like turning on a light switch. Most of us don’t understand electricity and how it works but we know we can see when the light is turned on. Peace is a similar necessity of life.
Peace comes more regularly these days although the visits are usually fairly short but I have learned to appreciate and be grateful for when it does come.
So, if you want to ask God for peace of mind for yourself or for someone you know who really needs it just claim Philippines 4:7 when you pray, “Lord bless my loved one with the peace of God which passes all our understanding knowing that our hearts and minds will be protected by Jesus himself”
Peace of mind? Oh what a feeling.
The Word can be used as prayer as in the example below.
“Lord, I will do anything for you because I would rather be a doorkeeper in your house than live with the wicked. In other words Lord I don’t care what kind of ministry, mission or place in your kingdom that you have for me as long as it’s in your perfect will. (Psalm 84:10)
So when God answers your prayer and gives you a place that on the outside is less than desirable than what you had in mind when you claimed God’s Word just remember, sometimes you just may get what you asked for.
My prison ministry involves one 31 year old man, Ben. Over a month ago I visited Ben for the second time and he opened up and told me his story of how God changed his life.
Over eighteen months ago he was dramatically arrested for parole violations. His original sentence was drug related and with other charges he wound up with a two year sentence. He has been in and out of jail for the last three years and has been incarcerated for twenty consecutive months. The end of his sentence just five months away.
Ben told me with a wry smile that he was one angry man when he was last arrested and sent back to prison. He started fights with anyone around who looked at him the wrong way and caused trouble where there was none. The penalty for fighting and other serious offenses was at least a weeks isolation. Each time coming out angrier than when he went in.
Reminiscing to himself as he related how he got into such a mess, he said, “I had it all not too many years ago. I had a great partner a beautiful daughter and my own business. We had big plans, buying a house, expanding my business and working toward a successful life together.”
He admitted that drug use since he was a young teenager had taken its toll and for many years he was able to keep it under control. But as pressure built up in his life from raising a child, his relationship with his partner starting to sour and losing the passion for his business drugs became his best friend.
Ultimately his partner took their daughter and left for the refuge of family and friends over 2000 miles away. “This sent me over the edge. My daughter was my best friend and although my relationship with Sharon (not her real name) was beyond repair we were able to keep our differences at bay for the sake of Tina (not her real name.)
“About months into my jail term something happened. I had been having bad dreams for quite some time but when in isolation on this occasion I actually saw the demons above my cell looking down at me. They looked liked monsters and they were milling around in constant movement trying to figure a way to get at me. It freaked me out. It scared the crap out of me.”
He then confessed that up until that time he had professed to be an atheist. So much so that he refused to allow anyone to teach his daughter about God.
“As the demons seemed to be getting closer to finding a way at getting to me I prayed. I asked God to help me. I can’t remember exactly what I prayed but I know that God became real to me that night. That night the demons left and I had peace for the first time in many years.”
Not long after Ben got a hold of a Bible and made a promise to God.
“I told God that I would read the bible everyday. I started from Genesis and read every word to the end of Revelations. I started to pray every night without fail.”
Ben now smiling from ear to ear related how things started changing. Prior to this time Sharon would not answer any of his letters. He was cut off from his daughter not knowing if she had gotten any of the letters he sent her.
“Miraculously Sharon started to write me and we have been in constant communication ever since. I renewed my relationship with Tina and I talk to her every week. Sharon and I are now committed to put aside our differences and she has invited me to live with them when I get released from jail so I can be a part of Tina’s life.”
His life in prison has dramatically changed. He started drawing and sketching again sending most of his work to his daughter. He believes he has become a positive influence on other prisoners and has been moved to a section of the prison for those who earned the right to live less supervised in dormitory type quarters. He now has a job within his unit that keeps him busy and earns him some extra money to call his daughter.
“I work out every day, I keep myself in shape as I want to be a personal trainer when I get out” he tell me. “I even eat only healthy foods now”, he says with a chuckle.
Most of all Ben is growing in his faith learning to trust God for everything in his life. He has no regrets about his past and looks forward to his future with mixed feelings knowing it’s not going to be a walk in the park.
As I write this I am reminded of a letter he wrote not long after he allowed God back into his life. He mentioned that all the faith and love that his parents raised him with had come back to him and how thankful he was for all they had taught him about God growing up.
Now I have a wry smile on my face. You see, Ben is my son.
When I went to Vietnam my girlfriend wrote me every single day that I was there. You heard right, three hundred and sixty five letters. The mail would come about once a week so I was given seven letters at a time, each a half inch thick. Handwritten on A-4 lined paper at least 4-6 pages each.
She wrote about important stuff like the neighbors dog got a hair cut, it snowed and eighty four million pieces of snow dropped on the city in one hour, my old school got a new stop sign, our favorite diner got a new menu, Jerry the Barber went on vacation, the local deli man got married, again. Her mom got a new bedside lamp, not to forget to mention that carrots went up by ten cents a pound.
To say the least she took her writing seriously and I read every single word, in case I was quizzed when I got home.
All that to say, I have been reading this book The Soul’s Remembrance by Roy Mills and this line jumped out at me. “Prayer…and staying in touch with God helps us remember who we really are , that we are spiritual beings who are away from home.
I never saw prayer in that light before. How true, we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth, visitors, just passing through and all the time we need to remember to stay in touch with Home (Heaven).
God our Dad wants to hear how things are going, what we are doing, if we are happy or not, who we are meeting, what our future plans are, how did it go at the dentist, what our kids are doing and of course if we need anything sent from Home that will help us on our mission. You know the things we can’t get here but our Dad has at his disposal.
Now that is a side of prayer that really turns me on.
I need to write Home on a regular basis. No, regular basis is not enough, every day, every hour, every minute. Knowing He wants to know all the details is exciting because He knows that we get lonely and Home sick from time to time and to know that He reads every word, well that is just plain comforting.
So stop what you’re doing, write Home because God misses you too.
“But to do good and communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Hebrews 13:16 (KJV)
How do we really know when it is God speaking to us. So how do I really know its God? I wonder what God thinks when we continue to question, “is that really you God?” when He speaks to us.
The thing that came to mind this morning was how I recognize someones voice on the phone. Of course in this day and age all we need to do is look at the caller ID on our mobile phones and see who it is.
Unfortunately God very seldom uses a direct phone line when He speaks to me so I really don’t have his caller ID, but that would be way cool if He did.
Getting back to voice recognition, take away caller ID or those of us who can remember when we used the wall phone, it rings we pick it up, say hello and wait for the person on the other end to speak. We usually can recognize the caller’s voice if it is someone who calls regularly and we speak to them often.
They need to speak but a few words and we immediately know who it is. That is because we are in regular communication with them. We know without a doubt who is speaking, we are familiar with their voice and they need no introduction.
I wonder how God feels every time he calls us to speak to us when we continually ask who is this? “Is that you God? If that is you could you please confirm some personal details.”
So we can recognize our friends voices over the phone, we recognize our children and immediate family, we recognize our work place boss and colleagues etc those who we communicate on a regular basis.
The problem with is that God’s voice sounds so similar to my own. I hear myself saying. Is that you God or am I talking to myself?
My two eldest daughters sound exactly alike on the phone. When I answer and they reply with Hi Dad, it usually not enough for my inner voice recognition software to kick in. I need more so I will say something without committing my self to a mistake.
I know it’s a fifty-fifty proposition but family can be quite jealous and possessive about their identity and place in the pecking order.
So if I say too soon, “Hi Heidi how are you” and get back a “it’s Lisa Dad, don’t you know my voice by now?” I cringe and rebuff myself silently and cheerfully explain (for the umpteenth time), “you girls sound too much alike.”
God, I am sure, works hard to help us recognize his voice and I can’t sit here and tell anyone else how to do it. I have hard enough time trying to recognize His voice myself. What I shouldn’t need to do is ask God for His personal details when he speaks to me to confirm whether it is Him or not.
Learning to recognize God’s voice is essential if we are to believe that what we are hearing is from Him, then giving us the faith to know its God who is giving us the instruction or direction specifically for us.
Jesus said four times in the Gospels “he that ears to hear, let him hear” (Mat 11:15, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8 and Luke 14:35) and if we know that it Him speaking then we will have the faith to believe and act on what He is telling us.
Through out my christian life I have heard and often adhered to the proverbial motto of God speaks in three ways, yes, no, wait. So when praying for some direction, leading or intervention in my life and praying for God to give me an answer to what was on my mind I would obediently wait for yes, no or wait.
Since my direct link with God was somewhat dubious and the line was not always a clear one, I reverted to hearing through the Word.
Since I didn’t know any scriptures on God saying “yes son, this is what I want you to do or no son, this is not what I want you to do I waited a lot because nine times out of ten the scripture “wait on the Lord: be of good courage and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait I say on the Lord” Psalm 27:14 (KJV) would pop into my mind.
So a good portion of my life was waiting on the Lord for one thing or another. Most of the time I waited myself out of faith, forgot about what I was waiting for or something more interesting came along that I could wait on.
So let me throw a spanner in the works for those of us who have used this method of hearing from God for his leading our lives.
In Matthew 9:27-30 as the story goes; two blind men followed Jesus knowing that he was doing all these miracles. They called out, Hey Jesus how about us, can you heal us? To my knowledge Jesus didn’t say yes, he didn’t say no and he didn’t say wait. His answer was with a question. Do you believe I can I can do it?
They said yes. It says that Jesus touched their eyes and said “According to your faith be it unto you.” (Matthew 9:28) Their eyes were opened they were healed, they could see.
The point I wanted to make is this. We as Christians are content to wait on the Lord, wait on His perfect timing, wait for the Lord to make it so obvious for what we are praying about that many times we wind up waiting ourselves out of faith.
It’s not always about what God wants us to do. Many times it’s about what we know we should do, because God has already shown us and we are looking for validation. Just say yes to Jesus when he asks “do you believe I can?”
So when asking God for an answer lets trust Him that his answer be with a yes, no, wait or do you believe I can.
My money is on Matthew 9:28 According to your faith be it unto you.
When writing I Heard You The First Time and God Has A Plan For Our Children I had some of my own kids in mind. Putting my heart on paper caused me to solidify my faith, say to God, “here I stand by the grace of God, I am now wearing my heart on my sleeve. I am putting myself in a position where I have to back up my words with action.” That action is believing, believing that I know God will do a miracle if He has to, in His time and in His way.
It is so easy to think about our kids and not worry. It is harder to think about them and know that regardless of the circumstances and what is seen by the naked eye that God knows the outcome. He wants us to look at the outcome first.
That is the test of faith that no matter how hard it is to believe because of the physical actions that we are confronted by a wayward child that we know without a shadow of a doubt that God is hard at work behind the scenes making things happen and putting things in place to allow that miracle to happen.
I am convinced that miracles are not always instant in the present world that we can see but they are instant in the unseen world. That is where our belief comes into play and our faith tested. Believing what we can’t see but knowing God has already answered.
So what am I talking about you ask. Get to the point is your query? Get on with the story or you will leave this page you are thinking?
OK, you forced my hand.
My 20 year old son who has been experiencing the wrong side of town for about 6 years now, (which involved jail and drugs) received the Lord a few nights ago in all His glory. I know because I was there. From my perspective it was nothing short of Jesus’ direct intervention similar to Paul’s blinding and conversion on the road to Damascus.
I would love to share the details but I am reluctant to share his story at this time. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy.” Psalm 107:2 (KJV) My son was the redeemed and I will let him say so in his time as I believe its his story to share.
But I can rejoice for him, I can shout out to the world that God is good and God answers prayer. I can let the world know that our God is a good God and he would have it that none of these little ones perish. And in the same breath I proclaim to all, “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” Luke 15:7 (KJV)
Please pray for him as he struggles out of his cocoon of his past life to eventually turn into a beautiful butterfly.