15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. ~ I Corinthians 14:15
Last year I led a ladies Bible study for a few close friends. One of the ladies had a hard time praying. She would feel anxiety and even panic when she prayed. How sad! For this woman prayer was scary. A performance of sorts. As if God was judging her words and deciding if he would magically grant her wish or strike her with a lightning bolt for her shoddy job.
If you've been following my bi-weekly series on prayer, hopefully you already understand that prayer is not a performance. Once this woman realized that simply basking in God’s presence, merely listening to his voice, or dwelling on a scripture could be a form of prayer, things began to go much better for her.
Paul instructs us to pray with both the understanding and the spirit. There are a number of prayer techniques, used throughout the ages, that allow our minds to rest and our spiritual awareness to blossom. Let me begin this next section by saying that any hard-core conservative evangelicals might want to skip this post. Or at the very least, I would request that you remove any large rocks from your vicinity before proceeding ;)
Spontaneous Creative Expression
|Risen! - by novelist Lisa Samson
Let’s start with one that shouldn’t be too scary. Art. Art is a form of communication. Anything we can do with speech, we can do through singing, dancing, painting, writing poetry, etc... And yes, through these means we can pray.
Letting your mind flow free to worship God and express your heart spontaneously through the arts can provide an amazing experience in God’s presence. Little wonder most churches begin with music. And while planned music or dancing can work well as worship and prayer, how much better to engage in our own personal artistic prayer experience. Allow your emotions to well up from within and express them to God through your chosen medium, engaging your spirit and giving your mind an opportunity to rest. Bask in the tone of the music, the color of the paint, the texture of the clay.
Some churches even allow for such expression on Sunday morning. But I encourage you to consider adding your favorite form of artistic expression to your personal time of prayer. And take a moment to enjoy this worshipful art by one of the Inkies' favorite novelists, Lisa Samson.
Choosing a significant scripture and repeating it in a rhythmic pattern in time with your breath is a prayer technique that was used by both the ancient Hebrews and medieval Christians. This method of prayer is one of the most soothing techniques I’ve ever experienced. And it gives one a sense of entering the kingdom of God deep within.
Here are some of my favorite scriptures that I like to pray:
~“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty”
~“King of Kings and Lord of Lords”
~“In Him I live and move and have my being.”
~“Be still and know that I am God.”
~“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..”
Any short scripture of personal significance can work. As you repeat these scriptures, allow your mind to dwell on them, to picture them. Imagine what your life would look like if these scriptures were fully at realized in it. Allow them to do a work deep in your heart. Imagine the change that will take place when you truly begin to believe them.
Prayer in the Spirit
When reading I Corinthians 14:15 in context, you will discover that Paul is specifically referring to…dare I say it? I'm tempted to just call it the "t-word," but that doesn't seem right considering the New Testament refers to it on numerous occasions. Speaking in tongues had taken a bad rap in Christendom. And for good reason. Despite the fact that I was raised in a charismatic church, even I have held reservations about this technique, mostly because it has caused so much division in the body of Christ.
However, just because something causes controversy doesn’t make it wrong. In fact Christianity itself is quite controversial these days. The only theological argument I’ve ever heard against praying in tongues is a single scripture. And I would argue that a single scripture not taken in light of the entire word of God, at the very least, begs for reconsideration. Many churches avoid tongues not for theological reasons but because it is hard to control and has been abused. But that does mean it cannot be done decently and in order. Or even just privately at home. And who’s to say God would not like us to give up our control from time to time and give him the reigns.
As I’ve been doing this series on prayer, I’ve felt God prompting me to reexamine speaking in tongues. And it occurred to me that speaking in tongues serves the same purpose of many other prayer techniques. It eases our mind, it allows us to pray God’s words and not our own, and it is a way for the Holy Spirit to speak through us and to us. Paul prayed in tongues more than anyone around him, and maybe there is something to be learned from that.
Praying in tongues can seem intimidating because it by definition can’t be understood with the logical mind. We might worry we’re speaking gibberish, or something we heard someone else pray rather than an actual earthly or heavenly language. But Paul says in Romans 8: 26, “For we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” And I suspect it might be the release from deep in our spirit that matters more than the specifics of the words themselves.
Maybe speaking in tongues isn’t the thing for you. That’s cool. No worries. The important thing is to be open to how God is leading you to pray. However you choose to pray, remember that prayer is not a performance. Remember to pray both with your spirit and your understanding. And remember that it’s okay to put your mind at ease.
Are you able to put your mind at ease when you pray? Have you ever tried or had an experience, positive or negative, with any of these techniques? How is God leading you to pray?