Developing Habits for Deeper Prayer
Lent is a time where we come face to face with our human frailty because we come face to face with the purity, the magnificence and the wonder of God. When we see ourselves in the light of God, we immediately see the fact that in our lives, there are so many areas where we fall short.
Lent came about when three different things merged.
Originally there was a Paschal fast for a couple of days just before Easter, where people prepared for Easter. In time, it stretched out from being two days to being 40 days. At that time, the catechumens, which comes from a Latin word meaning to be ‘one under instruction’ were preparing to become Christians and enter the Christian community. There was also the ‘order of penitents’ who were people that had already been baptized, but then had fallen away and been outcast. However, they could come back and renew their baptism.
Lent is a period of incredible introspection where you look within yourself and ask, ‘Am I the person that God has called me to be?’ God has called each of us to be holy but none of us walk around and say, ‘I’m holy.’
Holiness is being dedicated to God. It is attempting to be who God made us to be fully and completely. Lent is the time when we look at ourselves and take stock of our lives and ask, ‘In light of who God has called me to be, who am I?’
Lent is when we draw towards God and look through our lives and there are several things that we can do. The very first thing we need to do is to keep reminding ourselves that we are in this season where we are drawing towards God because of what Jesus is about to do for us. We are reliving the reality that Jesus died because I’m separated from Him and that He rises so that I am unified with God forever.
We are coming into the high point of belief, an intensely personal time of our coming before God and being transformed by God.
We have got to keep remembering and reminding ourselves. I place signs and symbols around my house that constantly remind me where I am.
Next, we review or begin to take stock of life. You ask yourself a question, what is my marriage like? What am I like as a student? What am I like as a friend? What is my interior thought life like? How do I look after my body because it is the temple of Holy Spirit, but it’s also the vehicle that God has given to us to live in? We are called to looking after our bodies.
We need to allow time to take stock. Am I the person that God is calling me to be? When you ask that question, you see areas in your life where you immediately know you are not. I thought that maybe you would need to ask that question once or twice in your whole life, but you can come back every year and ask that question again and because you are in a different place, you answer it differently. When we do an examination of our conscience, when we look within ourselves, what we are saying is, ‘Have I been living according to who God’s called me to be?’
I am now a grandfather. I don’t have little children anymore or I’m not single or getting married. Now I review my life in the light of who I am today, with the responsibilities I have, with the talents I have, the gifts I have, how I’ve developed and the current responsibilities I have. In twelve months’ time, I won’t be able to do it the same way. It will be different because I’m constantly being called to the holiness that God’s asking of me right now.
When you see that difference between the holiness of God and who you are called to be and where you are, that’s where repentance comes in. We remind ourselves; we review and then repent. Repentance simply means to change. We sometimes associate repentance with feeling bad, but it’s got nothing to do with feelings necessarily. It’s all about the fact that we need to change. I need to move to holiness.
Who God has called me to be and who God has called you to be are different. There is the common thing of holiness of being a human being but then there are the specifics of how each of us are living that out in our circumstances, in the environments where we are, with the restrictions and the freedoms that some of us experience in our life. So, we move towards holiness the best we can in our lives.
Repentance, as in changing, involves seeking God’s forgiveness. It involves saying ‘God, I’m sorry, please forgive me.’
After we’ve asked forgiveness, and if we are repenting, there is a change. It might be a change of action. If my thought world is constantly negative and I realize that is not who God has called me to be, I’ve got to catch my mind at the point, when I’m negative. You change yourself when you are right in the process of being negative. Forgiveness leads to action, but the problem with our action is all our actions fall short. None of us can save ourselves. I can only do the best I can and somehow the best always falls short. I love my wife, Rosemary to bits, but I can say the most terrible things to her at times. I try my hardest and yet I don’t always do the right thing. I know that I should be this kind of man or woman and yet I fall short. I need the action of the Holy Spirit.
Repentance involves a move towards holiness. It is asking God’s forgiveness and receiving God’s forgiveness. It is making the change but then realizing that I can’t do enough. I need God to come. I need the Holy Spirit, which is given to me to make me become more than I can be myself. Does that make sense? So, I can’t do it myself. I need God to come into my life.
Ultimately repentance leads to reverence.
Reverence comes from prayer in the sense of being still before God. When I was young, I thought by the time I got to this age, I would be a pretty good person. I thought a lot of the problems I had in life would have been overcome. I thought I would be a lot more dedicated in my faith to God, but I know me. I know my head and my heart. I know what no one else sees and I need God.
We all need God and wherever we are in life, whether we are older, and our children are grown and gone, or whether we are yet to have children, whether we are single or a young adult. We all need God. And it comes from a sense of reverence and of being still.
I want to encourage you when you pray. I want to encourage you to make sure that you spend some time alone with God every day. I used to know a couple by the name of John and Anna, and they had four children. I remember being at school and I used to go and visit them after school. John was a gardener at a hospital, and I would go over there on Fridays after school. They were very nice to me and would always talk to me and I would have a cup of tea with them. John would come home from work, sit down and have a cup of tea. Then he would stand up and say, ‘Now I need to go and pray,’ and he would go to his bedroom and be there for 15 to 20 minutes. Then he would come back, and he did it every time. He had his individual prayer time with God seven days a week. When we stand before God, we won’t be standing with our wives, husbands or friends. Scripture tells us we are going to stand face to face with the living, almighty, beautiful God who is perfect, and we will walk into the arms of perfect love.
Reverence is coming to that point of being in the presence of God and sometimes you might use words.
So many people say to me, I don’t know how to pray. Let me tell you the secret. All you really need to do is turn up. Find yourself a chair or a quiet place, make yourself a cup of coffee, go sit in a church if you can but most churches are closed most of the time, so you are going to have to do it at home. Set aside a little bit of time each day and especially in this Lenten season.
- Remember I’m doing Lent. Now.
- Reviewing your life.
- Repentance as in turning. It is about asking forgiveness and taking the appropriate action. Saying Holy Spirit come into my life.
- Reverence – coming before God.
If you don’t know how to pray, I cannot recommend this enough, sit down and say, ‘I’m going to be here for the next 10 minutes, God and I’m just here.’ I don’t know what to say and I guarantee if you do it often enough, you will have so much to say, and the presence of God will be all around you.