When you pray…

[Here’s the next chapter of “How God Guides” – 17th I think… At first I thought a piece on prayer would be unnecessary for this theme of God’s guidance. It’s sort of assumed in all our talk about it that we’re talking to him and asking him for direction. But then again… Are we?]

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Matthew 6:5-7

 Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Ephesians 6:18

I really enjoy my conversations with the Lord. Call it prayer; call it devotions, quiet time or anything else that suits you. I’m partial to the term, “conversation” since it depicts a back-and-forth, an exchange, an interchange between God and me. In my opinion, the best prayers are more of a dialogue than a monologue. It’s not just us talking, and him listening. When we pray, something comes from him (he’s the Great Initiator), and then something goes back up to him from us. Then sometimes he sends something back to us in the form of a response to our prayer. This could only be true if what we have with God is a relationship, a fellowship with him that makes the “conversation” possible.

 My favorite places to have conversations with the Lord have all been outdoor places. I like walking while I’m talking to Jesus. I think it began when I was a new Christian trying to figure out if God wanted me to go to Bible College or not. I had a dog named, “8-Ball” (as in, “Eight ball in the side pocket”). 8-Ball was all white, and people would comment, “But an 8-ball is black!” to which I would usually reply, “Hmmm.”  Anyway, I found myself talking to the Lord more and more while on walks with my canine buddy. Our walks became longer and more frequent over time as I increasingly took pleasure in our talks (not with 8-Ball, but with Jesus). Later, when 8-Ball was no longer with me, I continued the walks and talks with Jesus. I guess it’s always felt like I’m on a walk with him and we’re both chatting about whatever comes to mind. I enjoy it most when it seems like what’s “coming to my mind” is being delivered from his mind to mine!

Everywhere I’ve lived since then I’ve developed favorite prayer walking places. I love the beach, having lived by it for most of my life, and many of these special places are on or near the seashore. The woods have a huge attraction for me, and so many of my beloved prayer spots are among the trees as well. I also love prayer hikes in the hills or mountains ­– the vistas inspire in me a divine perspective. Somehow mixing the all-essential conversation time with what I call, an “aesthetic (or creation) fix” has been significantly restorative for me over these many years. I’ll often stop on such a walk and thank him for sharing his beauty with me in the magnificence of his created world. Though I love to worship Jesus with friends, when I need renewal, I’d choose to take a walk with him any day – just me alone with him.

Until recently, my walking conversations with Jesus had almost always been during the daytime. But somewhere along the line I began taking night walks as well. There’s something about the night – the quiet and anonymity I guess – that I’ve learned to love as another venue for Jesus-time.

If I had to guess, I’d say that more times than not when God has definitively led me over the years it has come during my “Prayer Walks.” I want it to be clear that it’s not that I make a conscious decision to use a certain method or posture or vocabulary for my times of prayer. I just do whatever has, for me, facilitated my conversational interaction with the Lord. My times of prayer are usually more like “chats” with him; and out of the context of many of those chats, he’s gently, and “naturally” led me.

I carry a small digital recorder with me whenever I go on a prayer walk. (In the old days I used a piece of paper and a pen in my pocket to write things down that came to mind.) I’ll tend to put anywhere between one and even a dozen or two recordings on any given walk. Sometimes the promptings I receive from the Spirit turn out to be sort of a “To Do List.” (You know, “Call this person, write that letter, pray for this particular thing, etc.”) Other times I record things that are more like revelations, insights that he gives me while we’re chatting.  Sometimes what seems more like thoughts from my own head have turned out to be Holy Spirit generated ideas. His voice can sound pretty much like my own thoughts at times.

Sometimes it’s immediately clear to me what he wants me to do, and at other times the clarity comes much later, after many more conversations. Sometimes the leading from the Spirit comes when I’m seeking him for direction, but may also arrive as a surprise. I remember many years ago pacing back and forth (that’s what I’ll do when for some reason an outdoor walk is not feasible) in my apartment in southern California talking to Jesus, when out of the blue (so to speak) the words, “You’re going back to Chico,” came to my mind. It was the last thing that I expected to “hear” on that day, since, as I recall, I wasn’t even praying for leading about what to do when I finished college, and even if I were, my home town of Chico wasn’t even on my radar for potential places to go to next. It was a shock to me, but a clear word, one that I couldn’t shake or deny. It would require cutting my studies short, leaving Los Angeles earlier than I had planned (no sacrifice there!), and going “home” for no apparent reason (I didn’t get any “why” attached to it), but I was certain of it nonetheless, and began making plans to uproot.

It’s not as though I’m always (or even usually) right in what I think God is saying to me. But even when in hindsight I determine that I was mistaken, I don’t let it discourage me from trusting to be more accurate next time. I just keep going for walks, having my chats with God, and asking him to share his heart with me.

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