by Pringle Franklin
If you want to grow in your faith, the best method is to stretch yourself by spending regular time in prayer with God. This is not hard if you make it a priority. I recommend setting aside 30 minutes a day, first thing in the morning, for prayer and meditation on the Lord.
Before we moved to France, I was able to go downstairs and sit in my living room before my household woke up. This meant getting up around 6 a.m. during the week. At first, it is a challenge but after a string of days where you sit with God, you will find it becoming easier. Your body will get used to the new routine and your mind will adjust to the exercise in focused prayer.
I was fully entrenched in this daily practice when we left for Europe and it was a good thing because my routine was turned inside out. Traveling and major life changes always threaten our good habits. For the first six weeks, we had arranged a series of Home Exchanges in Denmark and Spain. That meant finding the time and space for prolonged prayer in different living situations, in different time zones, while my entire family was together on holiday. If it had not been for the truth of having tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and having developed a dependency on this prayer time, I might have fallen down on the job.
Through God’s grace in showing up to meet me in the mornings, I found the fervent desire to remain constant in holding up my end of the conversation. Once we finally got into our apartment in Paris, I was able to establish a routine and begin to build a life overseas. Yet the set-up of our apartment was not conducive to morning prayer. There was no extra space, no unused area at all. We each had a bedroom, and of course I shared mine with Sam. I need to be alone when I am praying and meditating. On the level that I am seeking, you cannot do this lying in bed after you wake up or before you go to sleep. That kind of prayer is less powerful.
In our Paris apartment, we had one large room that served as the den/TV area, the dining room, and the kitchen. We also had only one W.C., and it was right next to this main living space. So if anyone needed to get up and go to the bathroom, or make breakfast, or listen to music in the morning, it would interrupt my solitude. On top of this, our apartment was filled often with street noises — delivery trucks, people at a corner cafe, pedestrians and dogs making a ruckus. These could be distracting. So I began wearing earbuds and listening to an instrumental playlist of worship songs to give the feeling of being under a cone of silence.
At times, I was hanging on by my fingertips, like someone being pulled by floodwaters while keeping her hands clinched onto a tree root on the river bank. Imagine keeping your focus while your family watched the morning news in the same room. I mean, I would get started before they got up, but sometimes just my getting up would rouse my husband, and before my 45 minutes to an hour time was done, he was up making coffee and watching the English language news station. Therefore the ear buds were essential, as well as a personal rule has helped keep me accountable.
Each day, I do not permit myself to go onto the internet until after I have done my prayer session. The one time that I allowed something to interfere, and I broke this rule, I actually picked up a computer virus from opening a corrupted file on Facebook. It was the kind of virus that constantly hit me with pop up ads and hijacked my screen from one web page to an entirely unrelated page in which I had zero interest. It took me about four months and several failed attempts to get that thing disabled.
I did not see this aggravation as God punishing me; I viewed it as the natural consequence of my being more vulnerable to the pervasive evil that is always out there, ready to pounce, because I had not covered myself with the protection of this time spent with the Lord. After spending time with God, I am better guided;I feel sure I would not have clicked on that particular box to read a fake story that was really the vehicle for delivering the virus.
Of course Jesus did not have a computer, but he is my role model for this intentional prayer practice. Jesus spent hours in intense prayer and God-focused thought, so why should I do less? There was no other way forward, even though my personal space had been stripped away, even though all I had was a slightly uncomfortable wicker chair from the dining room set.
And the Lord blessed me for this persistence. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. A teacher appeared in my life in Paris. I met Riitta, a woman from Finland whose daughter went to the same International School as my son Baker. We met at a parent coffee at a local cafe; Riitta emitted a beautiful sense of love and calm. When she told me she was a meditation coach, I was intrigued. We made an appointment to get together. Her background of faith was in the Lutheran Church, and although she offered a non-religious, God-centered focus, she loves Christ and was able to coach me in a way that was consistent with my Christian faith.
The first time we met to meditate together, Riitta proposed a 30-minute session. I was ready. I knew how to sit still for up to an hour, based on my prayer practice. After about 10 minutes of the silent focus on God within me, I became aware of Riitta’s spiritual presence. I could feel a positive, loving energy coming from her toward me. I had not expected this; I could feel the Holy Spirit, but I could also feel Riitta’s spirit. Unlike street noises or my husband moving around my apartment, her presence was beneficial. It was like we were climbing the hill together.
When we finished the session, I told her that I had felt her projecting into my spiritual space. Her eyes grew wide; clearly she was surprised by my observation. She explained that she was not trying to make me aware of her but that she was actively praying for me during the meditation and asking God to remove any mental barriers and distracting thoughts that might arise. It was amazing that I could feel her helpful intention.
For the next nine months, Riitta and I would meet together weekly to meditate; sometimes we would even meditate remotely. Basically that meant I would be at my place and she would be at her place and we would coordinate a mutual time. During these 40-minute sessions, I would feel closer to God, and more focused, than when I had meditated on my own. It was as if she were helping to carry me on her back, to get me trained up. Now that I am back in Charleston, the time zones between us keep us from synchronized meditation.
However, I am able to continue in a satisfying path that I call Prayerful Meditation. I like to begin with a prayer to the Holy Trinity to come into my heart and to guide and protect me. It is also important to keep your back straight, to sit in a comfortable chair so that you do not need to move around, and to breathe deeply. My years of yoga have given me some experience with relaxing via deep breaths, but this was not something that requires a rigid formula.
isn’t to ask God for anything; nor to listen for any message or word; nor to have an agenda of things to accomplish. The intention is simply to enjoy God and feel his loving presence and peace. This is what we are designed to do.
Often the first 10 minutes are the most difficult, because the mind keeps bubbling over with unwanted thoughts and ideas. Also, the body will speak to you when you first become still. You might not have noticed it but your shoulders are stiff. Or your neck is sore. Little things like these will show up. You take a moment to roll your neck, or move your shoulders up and down, while breathing deeply and allowing yourself to relax. Then simply push the thoughts away.
Your body and mind are used to being in control; they have to be told to sit down and wait their turn while your soul rises to the consciousness and communes with the Lord. Now, although prayer is a conversation with God, it is often filled with anxiety. We bring our fears, our troubles, our concerns, both for ourselves, our loved ones, our community, our world. This is our privilege as children of God. But this is not how it works with meditation.
In meditation, perhaps after about 15 or 20 minutes, I will begin to feel the waves of holy energy surrounding me; I will feel ripples of color. It is like floating; it is like being set free. In these moments, the anxieties and cares of being a mortal creature simply melt away. I have a sense that it will be like this when we are reunited with Christ and God in Heaven. So it is a bit of the Kingdom of God here on earth.
When I am in this state, things will happen. A prayer request may come to my mind, and it is a good thing, not an intrusion. I can take this need, this concern, and simply hand it over to my Heavenly Father. He will remove it from my open hands. I am not asking him to do anything with it other than to take it and make it work out according to his purpose. Also I am releasing myself to whatever plan my Abba Father has in store. This is comfort beyond words; this is knowing beyond knowing that God is in Heaven and all is right with the universe. This is sensing the holy energy behind Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who love God.
After some months of meditating, I began to notice several things. First, there was a new calm under the surface. This was a result of my trying to carry the presence of God with me as I returned to the hustle and bustle of life. Also, there was a better awareness in my soul of the nudging of the Holy Spirit. I would receive gentle impressions that I should hold my tongue when I was on the verge of saying something, or I should let go of a negative emotion, or I should slow down and stop allowing myself to feel rushed. It became easier for me to be patient; it became easier for me to shake off a remark that would have gotten me riled up and defensive.
Also, as I lived in this presence, I realized that alcohol was a muffler to God’s spirit. While I have never had a drinking problem, my enjoyment of social drinking has been a big part of my adult life. Especially while living in France. But I became aware that, after a certain point, the effect of the alcohol would diminish my ability to tune into God. This led me to establish periodic times of refraining from drinking; it also began to teach me to the value of moderation when I do imbibe. This is not an 11th Commandment or a call for Prohibition. It is an example of how heightened awareness of God gives you a deeper perspective and changes your desires.
Meditation also offers new clarity. From childhood, I had struggled with being prompt. My mother was always running late and she modeled haphazard time management. I did not know how to live any other way. Naturally for important occasions — a job interview, a funeral, a wedding — I could slip in under the wire. But 80 percent of the time I was showing up about 10 to 15 minutes late.
About five years ago, I was fed up with this slackness in my character. I prayed to God and begged him to heal me of this flaw. I really tried harder for several days after that, but it continued to be a struggle. I couldn’t quite shake this life-long inclination so before long, I had slipped back into accepting that this was just the way I was wired.
However, this wiring was changed by meditation. Last spring, my mind understood that I did not need for God to do anything in order for me to become punctual. I had the ability to do this work myself. It would be simple, as long as I made being on time my priority as I was preparing and ordering my day. In Paris, I had several friends from Asia, and after awhile, I noticed that whenever we had a rendezvous, they would all be there before I arrived. Even if I showed up on the dot, they were already there. If I arrived two minutes ahead of time, my Asian friends would be ready and waiting at the appointed meeting place. I divined that they have been trained to arrive 10 minutes early.
If they could do it, so could I. All those years I thought I was missing something in my brain, and it turns out that it was simply a laziness and/or a selfishness that made me habitually late. After that, I began a new habit of being punctual. It requires diligence but it is not difficult. It is simply a matter of thinking about the other person and stopping whatever I am doing so that I can get to the next place on time. This does not mean that I will never be late again, as things happen. But my understanding of my behavior has changed with remarkable ease. It is because of meditation that my mind was clear and calm enough to grasp this.
Meditation is not something to fear.
Meditation on the Almighty is an ancient practice, known and practiced by sages, prophets and saints, as well as lonely shepherds. As David wrote, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” ~Psalm 19:14
Yet in today’s world, Christians have become afraid of meditation as if it were recently invented as a New Age gimmick. We have lost sight of its power to bring us into the presence of the living God. Another reason that too few people practice regular meditation is the logistical price. Naturally, meditation requires an investment of time and focus. Even prayer has been dumbed down to accommodate a distracted and frenetic world in which Christians shove God to the bottom of the to-do list. Too often the Lord gets the wrinkled leftovers, the tired, frazzled remains of our day between when our head hits the pillow and we drift off to sleep.
A motivated believer needs to put in more elbow grease. And when we do set aside time to pray, we must remember to keep our thoughts focused on God rather than our fears. Sometimes we sit there worrying and waste energy by trying to figure out solutions that we hope God will employ. This is not prayer, this is wishing. Of course giving things over to God is a process, and sometimes prayer is a wrestling with God, a way that he brings us to a point of surrender and growth and renewal.
In contrast, meditation begins at the point of surrender. Therefore, you can move higher up and further in. It is important not to expect anything. There is no success or failure. It is simply about clearing your mind and allowing your soul to come into the presence of the one of who created you and loves you. It is like the child curling up in her mother’s lap and snuggling. It is a place of safety and nourishment and deep abiding.
He went up into a mountain apart to pray; and when evening was come, he was there alone. Matt. 14:23
The man Christ Jesus felt the need of perfect solitude—Himself alone, entirely by Himself, alone with Himself. We know how much intercourse with men draws us away from ourselves and exhausts our powers. The man Christ Jesus knew this, too, and felt the need of being by Himself again, of gathering all His powers, of realizing fully His high destiny, His human weakness, His entire dependence on the Father.
How much more does the child of God need this—himself alone with spiritual realities, himself alone with God the Father. If ever there were one who could dispense with special seasons for solitude and fellowship, it was our Lord. But He could not do His work or maintain His fellowship in full power, without His quiet time.
Would God that every servant of His understood and practiced this blessed art, and that the Church knew how to train its children into some sense of this high and holy privilege, that every believer may and must have his time when he is indeed himself alone with God. Oh, the thought to have God all alone to myself, and to know that God has me all alone to Himself.
Andrew Murray, Streams in the Desert