Beside still waters. That sounds wonderful! We long for such a place, such a moment of stillness and peace in our lives. That is what this daily prayer devotional is about. It is about taking time every day to be still and to open our lives to the presence of a loving God. It is about stepping back a few moments every day from the clutter and clatter to pray. Prayer is, after all, a fulfilling of our most basic, most fundamental need, to be in communion with God.
So, we are going on short daily retreats just to be with God. The word “retreat” comes from an old Middle English word meaning, “a strategic withdrawal from battle.” We, thinking strategically here, want to take some steps back from the action to deepen our relationship with God through prayer. As Julian of Norwich observed in the fourteenth century, “Prayer oneth thee to God.”
Significantly, we see in the Gospel of Mark nine times when the very active Lord Jesus goes on short retreats to pray. For example, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Amazingly, Jesus came into this world in order to draw us into His very life of eternal communion with the Father.
We will take a few moments each day to set aside the many things we could be doing in order to be with God. We will explore many of the facets of prayer, not just to obtain something from God, but to act in partnership with Him. We will see that prayer is more than petition and pleading; it is our whole relationship with God. Eugene Peterson wisely reminds us, “Prayers are not tools for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.” (Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer) Seventeenth century Scottish theologian Henry Scougal elegantly wrote:
In prayer we make the nearest approaches to God, and lie open to the influences of heaven; then it is that the Sun of Righteousness doth visit his directest rays, and dissipateth our darkness, and imprinteth his image on our souls. (The Life of God in the Soul of Man) And God longs for us to pray to satisfy something in Him. Spending time with Him makes God happy!
In these daily retreats we will take up the Bible as our guide as we best nurture our praying on Scripture. Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught his students; “Prayer means nothing else but the readiness and willingness to appropriate the Word… According to a word of Scripture we pray for the clarification of our day, for preservation from sin, for growth in sanctification, for faithfulness and strength in our work.” (Life Together) So each day we will listen for God in His Word, and speak with Him in response. We encourage you to get a notebook or journal to record some of your conversations with God; what you sense God saying to you and what you want to say to Him.
Each day’s reading begins with a short Scripture reflection followed by a Prayer Retreat with suggested activities. You will pray! Like C. S. Lewis said, “We want to know not how to pray if we were perfect, but how we should pray being as we are now.” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer) Or, as Abbot Chapman counseled in his classic on prayer: “Pray as you can, and do not try to pray as you can’t. Take yourself as you find yourself and start from there.” (Spiritual Letters)
There are probably as many different ways of praying as there are people. Each of us has our unique, God-created way of being with Him. We will explore many different ways of praying, some that will feel more comfortable to you than others. If over the course of the coming days you ever find yourself asking, “Am I praying right?” Relax! God will teach you! Come back to those ways of praying that feel right for you; make them a part of your ongoing daily prayer.
Why not decide right now on the place where you want to go on retreat each day? Make it a special place. And when each day do you want to meet with God? Commit yourself to it!
Where you will meet with God: _________________________
When you will meet with God: __________________________
As you enter the coming days, know that you are God’s beloved, the apple of His eye. You are surrounded by His love. He will lead you beside still waters!