Prayer often works like baking a loaf of bread: You’ve got to mix the ingredients, knead the dough, proof the dough, then bake the finished loaf.
Step one: mix the ingredients. When baking bread, you can’t just throw a bunch of random stuff in a bowl and expect to get a loaf of bread. If you expect to get something edible, you have to use specific ingredients.
Matthew chapter 7, the last chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, contains a number of succinct statements, which make important points for believers. The focus is on prayer, continued from earlier in the Sermon: not praying like the hypocrites who want to be seen by others1 or like the pagans who babble on, thinking their prayers will be answered if they repeat them over and over;2 but rather praying with the understanding that our Father loves and cares for us.3
The Bible tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”1But most of us have probably wondered if our prayers really make a difference, especially if we’ve been praying long and hard for a certain situation but haven’t seen the desired result.
When putting together this issue, I came across the following illustration:
When I was in the second semester of my first year in college, some Christian classmates and I started to feel concerned that our faith was getting buried amidst our assignments, friends, clubs, and hobbies. We didn’t want it to be something that we briefly attended to during the weekends, and then set aside as we bounced back to the exciting and busy pace of college life on Monday.
My day invariably begins with taking my jet-black poodle for her morning walk, an activity which is high on her list of priorities. We have a regular route which takes us about 10 minutes to complete.
Just as we’re setting out on this warm July morning, I remember that we’re out of oranges, so I decide to alter our regular route and instead head for the Carmelite mission that sits relatively secluded atop a small hill. The mission sells oranges for a couple of dollars a bag.
In my turn-of-the year cleanup, I found an old yearbook. I smiled as I read down the very long list of my resolutions for that year. I guess I had high expectations of myself!
This past year, I decided to make only three resolutions: Be more loving and encouraging, finish a major writing project I was working on and start a new one, and keep a prayer list.
I love it when you take time to commune with Me. There don’t even have to be words, prayers, or praises involved. We can commune in the spirit if you turn your thoughts toward Me and let your mind and spirit dwell there.
We can be like two lovers who are happy at the thought of just being in each other’s presence, no words passing between them. They hold each other and gaze into each other’s eyes, and that is communication enough. Their hearts get on the same wavelength. They don’t need to communicate verbally because their closeness lets them know what the other is thinking. It can be the same with you and Me.
Step 1: Choose an appropriate location. Most people find that meditation is best in quiet, uncluttered surroundings, ideally away from where they work or spend most of their waking hours. A secluded spot outside can be especially conducive. Fresh air not only renews us physically, but it also helps to illustrate how God’s Spirit can clear our minds and spirits.