Thirty years ago I lived and worked in London with several other men. We were involved in campus ministry and the charismatic renewal. One housemate—let’s call him Tom—spent a couple hours in discussion with Rev. John Stott. When Tom returned from his visit, he was incredulous.
During Tom’s meeting, they discussed prayer. Stott claimed that his most significant times of prayer involve prayerful reflection with God. As a charismatic, Tom preferred exuberant worship with contemporary songs and praying in the Spirit.
We considered Stott’s “prayer” of reflection to be too intellectual, too shallow, too unenlightened, and perhaps unspiritual. We chuckled.
In fact, I’d say we snickered.
By the end of his life, Time Magazine identified Stott as one of the 100 most influential people in the world; he had written over 50 books; and he had helped hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of people. And we twenty-something neophytes snickered at his shallowness.
Thirty years later, I’m rethinking spiritual reflection, and I’m finding it rich. Stott was oh-so-very right, and I—once again—was oh-so-very wrong. Spiritual reflection is one of the deepest ways to connect with God that I’ve ever experienced.
I love to brainstorm, to whiteboard ideas, and to creatively go after innovative thoughts. I love doing this with friends for practical decisions, so I tried it with God.
I find I love it. Spiritual reflection is moving me closer to God, and I’m hearing his voice.
What’s the point?
Dallas Willard once wrote that a huge problem for all humans—believers or not—is our denial of reality. We live in shallow realities while denying or ignoring deep realities.
The primary purpose of prayerful reflection is to connect with God deep in our hearts. C. S. Lewis said that we are content to play in mud puddles while God invites us to the seashore. Prayerful reflection is a visit to the coast. And Jesus loves to speak to us at the beach.
The solid external world seems more real to us than our intangible inner life; our external senses seem more alive than our inner senses. I “see” the reality of stains on the carpet; I “hear” the grind of the garbage truck; I “feel” the soreness in my bad knee. They seem more tangible than the elusive inner life of God’s love and presence.
It’s like our reality merely consists of our five physical senses. They are on video while our inner life with God is on audio.
Most prayers consist of: Asking (Could you help me with my test tomorrow?), Worship (God, you are so great!), Thanksgiving (Thanks for the food), and Repentance (Please forgive me for snapping at my kids). These prayers are great. But they are one sided monologues, us saying something to God.
Discussion and Connection
Prayerful reflection is like discussion, a connection to a friend. There is back and forth, questions and answers, clarification and interpretation. It is a personal, conversational connection to God, the Ultimate Reality.
Prayerful reflection requires curiosity and a heightened personal awareness. We become aware of an inner anger at a negative comment, and in curiosity we ask God about it. Our curiosity is not satisfied with shallow answers like, “I’m angry because they said something negative about me.”
Of course comments may trigger anger, but why do the opinions of others matter so much? We ask God, and he speaks. He says that their opinion is more “real” to us than his own. And then God offers a heart sense of his reality, and our hearts are calmed.
Questions and Reflection
With increased inner awareness and in curiosity we go to God with questions, like,
- I’ve read this passage a hundred times, but this time something quickened in my heart; God what is that quickening about?
- I just watched a movie and during the ending I began to tear up; God, what about that ending is moving me?
- I’m feeling anxious about my children; God, why do I think you are less concerned for them than I am?
- God, what does it really mean that you love me?
Here’s the thing: when we go to God in prayerful reflection it empowers our ability to Ask, Worship, Thank, and Repent. Let’s look at that anger. As we discuss this with God—as we practice prayerful reflection—God speaks, and all of a sudden we,
- Ask: God, may the magnitude of your majesty eclipse the opinion of man.
- Worship: As I see the beauty of your reality, I am moved to adore you.
- Thanksgiving: Thank you God for your opinion and care for me.
- Repentance: I repent that the molehill of human opinion overshadows the mountain of your greatness.
Prayerful reflection is a conversation with God that connects us to ultimate realities, the reality of a relationship with the person of God.
One of the greatest lessons in hearing God that I’m learning is to prayerfully reflect. Try it; you’ll like it.
Hey! Did I just hear someone snicker?