Is God really really real to you?
I think that is a big challenge, especially in a society that frequently puts out a message of being “past” believing in God (though this is not actually always backed up by the statistics). We are constantly told that science or modern thought has made God irrelevant (I don’t think either of these worry Him- either the laws of the world He created or the morality of the people He made in His image). As a Christian at such a time, we can lose focus on the reality of God, which should really be our automatic starting point, a bit like believing in any other thing we can experience without seeing such as wind or gravity. So I had some thoughts on how I first approached prayer and how my faith affected it… (I hope this is helpful)
Step 1: Saying the Lord’s prayer (“Our Father, who art in heaven…” or a more modern version), was quite a challenge when I was small. I learned the hundred or so words eventually, by parroting what was said around me in church, written on service sheets or recited by my parents. You may not be surprised to learn that simply learning to say the words, is neither prayer nor productive. It took me a good few years to realize the next steps.
Step 2: I quite quickly wanted understanding. It’s very unsatisfying to say things you don’t understand and it took me a while to get around old-fashioned words like “trespasses”. The next step was more important…
Step 3: I remember very clearly explaining to my parents from my bed that I was now really meaning what I had been saying. This was after feeling quite happy about only really being at stage 2 for a long time.
Not a step: this is actually a really key thing. Remember who you are talking to. I think we all know what is important in conversation with anyone else. We remember who we are talking to. We know we should be honest and speak words we understand and mean when we talk to our fellow human beings. It just seems in prayer life that we need reminding of it. I used to think that “coming into the presence” was a bit mystical and not very useful in terms of time spent in prayer. But now I realize that this is what makes prayer prayer: coming into the presence of the One Living God, someone we can only approach through His mercy and the power of His Spirit in us.
I certainly don’t advocate any sort of imaginative exercise like “picturing a garden where Jesus comes through the gate”. To me that is the opposite of experiencing a reality- creating a fantasy. Jesus is right there with you: you don’t need to imagine Him into a scene in your head. He speaks with us and as we spend time in His presence, we will find our prayer life deepen and our prayers become more effective. This is really a challenge though as often I am tempted to get on and do things, something which my (somewhat hectic) lifestyle can encourage. I hope it challenges you too! Do get back to me with anything from your own experiences and time spent with the Lord.