We must begin with an understanding of the dynamics of the Christian life for it is within such dynamics that our prayer will occur. Here prayer is more than a simple petition for something, rather it is the instrument through which I seek an encounter with another person, to engage in the dynamics that happen when two come together. Your prayer will be an encounter with the Lord and all that will be the fruit of this encounter. First let us look at the three essential elements that make up the dynamics of the Christian Life, God's Word, Conversion and Grace.
Since scripture will be an essential element in our prayer, first let us look at the different ways scripture can be viewed. We call this the different senses of scripture.
We see that a scripture text can be used in the context of prayer to be an instrument through which the Lord can speak to us, helping us to hear His voice speaking to use in a very personal way.
PRAYING ON A TEXT OF SCRIPTURE:
Let us look at prayer with a scripture passage. We can discuss choosing a text for prayer later, for now let us use this illustration.
STRUCTURING YOUR PRAYER TIME
Praying this way is not a "one of " experience. This prayer is intended to build an ongoing relationship. This prayer is two persons coming together, you and the Lord, coming together so that the Lord can form and shape in you a true spiritual life. In order for that to happen, this way of praying must become a regular pattern of life for you. With this in mind here are some key elements.
- Appointing a time and place for this encounter in prayer. If you are willing to meet, the Lord will be there. It is His desire that we grow in the knowledge of His love for you and the plans He has for your life.
- Have a scripture passage chosen. There are many approaches to choosing scripture for prayer. A scripture passage from the liturgy is a good place to start. The gospels especially those passages that tell of Jesus encounter with others such as our example above are especially good for one beginning this approach to prayer. When a particular passage stands out for you, returning to it several times gives more time for its message to unfold. Sometimes we come across a passage in an unexpected way. We might say such spontaneity is the Lord's way of leading us to a text.
- In John Ch. 14:23 Jesus promises, "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him". We can be certain that if we sincerely make this appointment for prayer the Lord will be present. He is surely there with you. Look, listen and respond, be yourself. The Lord will take care of His part.
When you have concluded your prayer it is recommended that you write down some notes about your prayer experience. What did you see, what did you hear, what struck you about this prayer, how did it make you feel, feelings are important because they are windows into the soul. Was your prayer rich and full or did it seem dry and detached The Lord brings us both kinds of prayer each for a particular purpose. These are elements in discerning your prayer.
(After the Lord showed the fishermen how to fill their nets, they dragged them ashore full of all manner of things from the sea. They proceeded to collect all that was useful and discard the rest.) Examining our prayer experiences, going over them again and again, sorting out what is the Lord's true voice from all the rest is essential to discovering the Lord's message so that we can make the correct response. Sharing your prayer experience with another, with a sharing group, a spiritual adviser can be beneficial in this process of discernment.
So we see how this way of prayer fits into the model of the spiritual life we laid out at the beginning.
The structure of this approach to prayer:
- PLACE: choosing a place with a measure of quiet and solitude.
- PRESENCE: entering this prayer expecting to be guided by Grace.
- PETITION: asking for the graces that will make this prayer fruitful.
- PASSAGE: preparing a passage of scripture for reflection.
- PRAYER: entering the passage, looking, listening, imagining you are there, focusing on various persons, collecting your thoughts, feelings, reaction.
- PRAISE and thanks: closing with a prayer formed in your own words, as one speaking face to face to another; expressing your gratitude for the blessings and guidance received in this prayer time.