Do you have a strong core? I do not mean your abs, back or pelvis. I am talking about your spiritual core: your heart & mind. So to be more specific, “do you have a strong spiritual core: a strong heart and mind?”
I ask that question because over the past month we have been doing a message series at our church called “CORE: Spiritual Training :: Spiritual Disciplines.” Overall, I have received a lot of positive feedback, perhaps because it is one of those back to the basics series in which we remind ourselves of the essential activities of our faith. The Bible teaches that the Christian life is like physical training: in 1 Timothy 4:8 the Apostle Paul instructed his protégé Timothy to “Train yourself to be godly.” Like physical training, spiritual training takes on the form of disciplined activities. These disciplined activities engage and strengthen our heart and mind so that we can be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, which is the purpose of the Christian faith and life. Romans 12:2 says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Eph. 4:23 says “be made new in the attitude of your minds.” 2 Cor. 4:18 says we “…are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory…”.
What activities help you “to be transformed into his likeness”? The first is prayer. I define prayer as “communion with God.” Prayer is being aware of God’s presence and having a conversation with him. 1 Thessalonians 5:16—18 says “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 12:12 says “…be faithful in prayer.” Col. 4:2 says “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” The Bible strongly encourages you to “pray continually.” How do you do this? Brother Lawrence provided an idea in his classic book on prayer The Practice of the Presence of God. He said “I make it my business to rest in His holy presence, which I keep myself in by a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God.” For him, prayer was a state of mind.
Now although this is true, there are specific ways to pray continually that you might benefit from. Allow me to suggest three. The first is to pray through the Psalms. You can literally read them out loud. The Psalms teach us how to pray. Historically speaking, the Psalms were the prayer book of Israel, the prayer book of Jesus, and the prayer book of the Church. You cannot do better than to pray divinely inspired prayers. You are praying God’s truth and God’s thoughts back to him.
And yet the Psalms go both ways. The early Church Father Athanasius said “most of Scripture speaks to us; the Psalms speak for us.” John Calvin called the Psalms “the anatomy of the soul.” The Psalms express every kind of emotion that you and I experience: fear, rage, despair, hope, faith and trust. The Psalms are real prayers for real people.
Praying through the Psalms will also keep our prayers balanced. Left to our own devices, our prayers will become lopsided, simply about ourselves and our needs, and they will not necessarily reflect the priorities that are in God’s heart.
A second way to pray is to write out your prayers in a journal. Oftentimes, when I want to pray I go to a quiet place and I quiet my heart and then my mind is bombarded with my to-do list: “I need to do this, I need to do that, I need to call this person.” It’s hard to focus! So I write out my prayers. It forces me to focus on what I am doing, to be present in my prayers. I recommend you give it a shot.
Lastly, pray with other people. Some of you are extroverts: you thrive on human interaction. So pray with other people as much as possible. Pray with your spouse, pray with your kids, pray with a friend; join a small group or a prayer group. When we pray with other people, we feed off of one another & we learn from one another. Our prayer life is richer in community.
Yet prayer is only the first of many spiritual disciplines. In the weeks to come I hope to share a few more with you!