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Confronting your own thoughts in prayer
We started a season of prayer last night at Broad & Dauphin. For some of us, prayer is a crucial and major discipline. We get out of bed, and it’s regular as the coffee is. We get up early to do it, even when we’re tired, because without it, and that extra hour of sleep, we’re even more exhausted.
And of course for others, well, we didn’t pray today. We don’t really pray unless we exclaim something like, “Oh my God!” or “Dammit!” Those are prayers of sorts. Sometimes we just say “Jesus!” or “Good Lord!” like I do when I’m watching and interceding for the Phillies and their relief pitchers. We do what we do, after all. The things we do mean something and they come out.
In Circle of Hope, prayer is crucial to everything we’re doing. You might visit the Daily Prayer blog regularly—hundreds of people do daily—and we walk together, step-by-step, praying together. Check it out.
Our four locations hold prayer vigils at 11:45. You may want to pray with us, wherever you are, at 11:45. You may not be able to venture to Broad & Dauphin or wherever else, but you may just want to pray alongside of us. Center yourselves and your day around prayer.
We often oscillate between internal and external praying, praying silently and praying out loud—sometimes we need to say a lot out loud and other times we just need to listen. We are complex beings with many needs—so there are a lot of ways to pray. But perhaps we shouldn’t rule one out or overemphasize one.
Around here, in Philadelphia, in our culture, we lean more toward the internal, which is also more cerebral—and I lean that way too (my dad used to pray really loudly at restaurants that we’d visit when growing up—I learned not to, I suppose).
The Quakers who influence many of us have taught us how to be silent in prayer—in fact, their whole meeting is silent. And that silence is crucial to having a relationship with God, if we can’t hear His whisper in our lives, if we can’t listen to him, and ease ourselves and anxiety, we’re missing out on something.
My friend Rod taught me about John Greenleaf Whittier—he is one of the most famous Quaker poets ever, apparently. He wrote poems, which are like prayers. Here’s one that he wrote based on silent prayer.
In calm and cool and silence, once again I find my old accustomed place among My brethren, here, perchance, no human tongue Shall utter words; where never hymn is sung, Nor deep-toned organ blown, nor censer swung
Nor dim light falling through the pictured pane! There, syllabled by silence, let me hear The still small voice which reached the prophets’ ear; Read in my heart a still diviner law Than Israel's leader on his tables saw! here let me strive with each besetting sin, Recall my wandering fancies, and restrain the sore disquiet of a restless brain; And, as the path of duty is made plain, May grace be given that I may walk therein, Not like the hireling, for his selfish gain, With backward glanced and reluctant tread, Making a merit of his coward dread, But, Cheerful, in the light around me thrown, Walking as one to pleasant service led; Doing God's will as if it were my own, Yet trusting not in mine, but in His strength alone!
He’s probably referring to the kind of prayer with which we are most familiar. Bowing your head, closing your eyes, etc.
You also see in Psalm 4:
Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.
You can see the call for the silent prayer that with which we might be used to—but the Psalms themselves are praises and prayers intended to be prayed out loud, in a setting like this. You can even see the dialogue in this passage between God and the person praying. Try reading Psalm 4 out loud now.
If you are alone and you are praying out loud—I think that’s great. You don’t have to shout, you can just use a normal “inside voice,” a “six-inch voice.” Of course, if your walls are paper thin and you are afraid of being overheard, you can just whisper it too.
It’s good to just get the thoughts out of your head and in front of you. It helps you actually confront what’s there, as opposed to just morphing it over and over in your head. We are better off if it’s out of our head and in front of us. That’s why verbal therapy is good—that’s why journaling is good—that’s why processing in general is good. When you are alone and you need to process; it’s OK to talk to God. Speaking out makes something more tangible.
The physical, incarnational things that we do—like Jesus demonstrated—make a difference. It makes us certain of what we are saying. The words came out and they mean something; it has a presence. It’s hard to lie to yourself when you are actually hearing yourself. It keeps your focused on what you are saying. Silent prayer is harder than praying out loud because in silence there are many things racing in our heads (at least for me). It gives us some order.
If your prayer is from the Psalmist that we just read—“you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” That could be your continuous prayer all day, and all week. You just keep working with it until it’s true in your life. Saying it out loud, meaning it out loud, and it has a presence in your life—it’s a big deal. Saying it out loud makes it more practical.
You can fake it obviously—you can say something out loud and not believe it in your heart. But the opposite might be more true—a lot of might think we think something, but our fear to speak it out loud might make weaken it. Some of us refuse to do it. They hold themselves back, it becomes less tangible, and it might disintegrate. Others are afraid to do it—afraid of being overheard, and sometimes even afraid of demons or the devil hearing us. But let’s be bold! Declare who you are and what you’re doing. You’ve nothing to be afraid of when you are praying out loud to God. Who can hurt you?
Praying out loud when we’re together is also good. When we’re doing it together, and actually doing it together might help you do it alone too. It’s public confession. It reaffirms our faith and the faith of each other. It moves us, and encourages us. It gives notice to human and spiritual beings that we are who we are!