Many years ago, I lived in London with a bunch of friends, working in campus ministry. One of my friends spent a couple hours with Dr. John Stott, an internationally-known pastor with a church that also ministered to university students.
Dr. Stott and my friend discussed prayer. Dr. Stott confessed that his best prayer time is spent in thinking with God, reflecting on scripture passages, and meditating on eternal truths.
My friend argued that the best prayer is found in corporate worship, enthusiastic singing, exalting in the presence of God, shouting his praises, singing, dancing, kneeling, and bowing before the throne of God. We considered Stott’s “prayer” of reflection 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 of people —probably millions. And we twenty-something neophytes snickered at his shallowness.
Thirty-five years later, I’m rethinking spiritual reflection—actually practicing it—and it is rich beyond belief. Stott was oh-so-very right, and I 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, whiteboard, and creatively go after innovative ideas. I love doing this with friends when considering anything, so I am trying it with God. And I love it.
Spiritual reflection is connecting me to God, and I’m hearing his voice.
What’s the point?
Dallas Willard claimed that one of largest human problems—for believers or not—is our denial of deep reality. We live in shallow realities while denying or ignoring the deep.
The primary purpose of prayerful reflection is to connect with the Real 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. Jesus loves to speak to us at the beach.
The external, solid world appears more “real” to us than our intangible inner life; our external senses are 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. These senses seem more concrete than the elusive inner life of God’s love and presence.
Our daily reality mostly consists of our five physical senses. They have more appeal; they are on HD video while our inner life with God is on scratchy old audio.
Our prayers are usually limited to: Asking (Please help me with my test tomorrow),Worship (God, you are so great!), Thanksgiving (Thanks for dinner), and Repentance(Please forgive me for snapping at my wife). These prayers are great. But they are one-sided monologues, us saying something to God. Sometimes God wants to respond.
Discussion and Connection
Real prayerful reflection is much more like conversation, a connection with a friend, a back and forth like tennis practice, questions and answers, clarification and interpretation, speaking and listening. It is a personal, conversational connection to God, the Ultimate Reality.
Prayerful reflection requires curiosity and a heightened personal awareness. We notice—that is an awareness arise—of our anger at a negative comment. In curiosity we ask God why we responded with such ferocity. Our curiosity is not satisfied with our own shallow answers like, “I’m angry because they disparaged me in front of others.”
Of course negative comments triggered anger, but why do the opinions of others matter so much? We ask God, and he speaks. Sometimes he speaks words—“Why is their opinion so important?—and sometime he simply triggers the inner realization that the opinions of others are more “real” to us than the opinions of God.
And then God offers a heart sense of his reality and care, and our hearts are at peace.
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, what are you surfacing?
- God, I just watched a movie and during the ending I began to tear up; what about that ending is moving me? What are you revealing to me?
- Father, I’m feeling anxious about my children. Why do I think you are less concerned for them than I am?
- God, what does it really mean that you love me? How can that shape my life?
Here’s the thing: when we go to God in prayerful reflection it fuels our ability to Ask, Worship, Thank, and Repent. Let’s look at that anger. As we discuss it 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 continually overshadows the mountain of your great interest in me.
Prayerful reflection is a conversation with God that connects us to him. It is learning to have a conversation with God. I am learning that one of the best ways to hear God is through prayerfully reflection.
Hey! Did I just hear someone snicker?