And he spent the night in prayer to God. —Luke
Under the silence of the stars, hid from the light of the sun
and the freneticism of the day, there is the possibility of
slipping into the holy place and pouring out the contents of
our hearts with honesty and authenticity. Sleep is always a
mighty temptation, as it was for the disciples who could not
resist it though Jesus asked that they stay awake for but one
hour. Something about the solitude of the night makes prayer
difficult, but it is that very solitude in blackness that can
become the most sacred time for prayer.
can become the time when the human heart meets heaven without
any sham, pretense, or superficiality. The darkness deftly slices
through the excuses and defenses that keep the shade over the
window of our soul. There in the thick shadows, the shade is
lifted and in the hushed beat of nighttime the light of God
floods over us. Suddenly, we have no desire to leave the place
of prayer. We want only to surrender our soul to the holiness
around us. Miraculously, when we awaken to the brightness of
day after a long night’s prayer, we feel we have been
O God, let me crash the night with my prayers until I am
enveloped by the light of heaven.
these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer. —Acts
While prayer is often thought to be an individual activity born
of private and internal difficulty, need, or sorrow, we don’t
ever really come before God alone. Much of our prayer will be
in the silence of our own heart, but even there, the whole human
family is present. What flows from our heart when we are in
need may be our own private words, yet these words are part
of the endless flow of words that are, or have been, cast toward
heaven throughout time.
One way to expand private prayer is with community prayer—that
is, the prayer of people approaching God together, praying in
accord and in agreement. The prayer of community is the prayer
of many voices combing to make a single voice. There are always
times when we are tempted to turn away from community—especially
organized church communities—because they lack the perfection
we silently want them to exhibit. However, when we are willing
to enter into the imperfect community, we can be awestruck when
that community’s prayer carries us into the hall of heaven.
O God, hear the voice of your people when we call to you.
and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock,
and the door will be opened for you. —Matthew 7:7
It is one of the most frequently quoted of all passages from
the Bible, and the one that we most hope is true, at least the
first seven words: "Ask, and it will be given you."
What can be more assuring than believing we will receive whatever
we ask for? It seems like we have just won the sweepstakes of
heaven and can go shopping there with abandon, choosing anything
we want from the overstocked shelves. Unfortunately, this reduces
prayer to nothing more than a medium of exchange, rather than
the sharing of a relationship of the deepest richness.
We are unable to see all the nuances, subtle needs and intricate
patterns of our lives that shift like mirrors in a kaleidoscope.
But the Holy One who created us in the tenderness of unconditional
love not only sees those nuances, needs, and patterns, but is
ready to care for them in ways more meaningful and lasting than
we could ever imagine on our own. God always has our best interest
at heart. And yet, we are told to ask and seek and knock. Why?
when we ask, we are expressing our desire to communicate with
the Holy One. When we seek, we are showing our desire to find
the Holy One. And when we knock, we are letting loose our longing
to be in union with the Holy One. Prayer is our way of saying
that we are willing to share in that rich relationship with
the Holy One. And, always, when we ask it is given to us, when
we seek we find, when we knock the door is opened.
God, in the unseen pockets of my spirit, I am hungry for you.
Let me feast on the food of your love.
ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to
spend what you get on your pleasures. —James 4:3
We pray with heartfelt passion. We try to convince ourselves
that we are not only heard by heaven, but that heaven is going
to answer the desires of our heart. We wait, and wonder why
we do not get what we have been wanting. We think our prayers
are honest and meant for good, but it seems that they do not
soften the ear of heaven. We understand that if we were asking
God for a new car or to win the lottery, or for a free ticket
to the Caribbean, God might be hesitant to grant our request.
But, when we are praying for healing, or employment, or to be
spared from unnecessary pain and suffering, surely those requests
ought to be answered by God. How can such requests be self-serving?
If we are honest with ourselves, most of our prayers are self-serving.
We want something—even a ‘good’ something—and
we ask to have it granted to us. But, pure prayer is much more
about relating with the Holy One than it is about receiving
positive answers for what we are looking to gain. The prayer
that always opens the heart of heaven is the prayer that is
offered without attachment to result. When we are able to pray
without attachment to results, God’s desire becomes our
own, and we are surprised at what happens—we are given
results that we could never have expected.
God, give me the soul that longs to be one with you more than
it wants the desires of the heart to be filled.
near to God and he will draw near to you. —James
Every space and time is filled with the presence of the Holy
One. We can make the mistake of thinking that prayer requires
heroic effort, a certain lifestyle, a mindset that is clear
and unconfused. There are, of course, times when we pray out
of some terror that has surrounded us like a hard shell around
a nascent and tender seed. We know we are desperate for God’s
immediate aid if we are to continue breathing the breath of
times like those, our prayer is often little more than one word:
Help. Yet, apart from those times of desperation, we can
shy away from developing a regular and steady prayer practice
because we think the Holy One has certain criteria that will
either be onerous or impossible to meet. Instead, we continue
chugging out our days and nights, struggling alone with our
trials and temptations, our hurts and questions, our stress
and anxiety with only a casual communication with the loving
This is the surprise: There are no criteria. There are no expectations.
We do not have to become perfect before we pray. We do not have
to achieve holiness before heaven will stoop to hear our poor
and paltry voice. It takes only a glance, an intention, a sliver
of desire, a moment of acknowledgement and suddenly the gap
that seemed as deep as a sliced crevasse is nothing more than
a whisper. God has come near.
O God, let me breathe in your presence, breathe out your
presence, breathe in your presence.
when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain
apart to pray and when the evening was come he was there alone.
It can simply be too much. Life, that is. Work, people, the
media, the noise, the demands, the stress can squeeze out the
energy and enthusiasm that should characterize the wonder all
around us. We feel life has become like an old, lumpy, overstuffed
chair that has long since lost its ability to provide comfort.
We search about for an escape, a change, a way to turn the craziness
into some semblance of order and peace.
It was the same for him. Jesus had spent hours teaching, listening,
touching, healing. He had not had any lunch break, no respite
at the local Starbucks, no time to share the concerns of his
own heart, no relaxing moments in a quiet place. It was just
people and their needs, people and their needs, people and their
needs. What was different for him, however, was that he was
not afraid to step away from stress into solitude.
While we may be adept at claiming an hour here or there for
being 'alone,' we rarely hear and respond to the inner need
to be absolutely and completely apart. Such solitude is not
escape from something, but entry into Someone. We send the world
away in order to create a space where we can pray to the God
who waits for us in the sheer silence of our own solitude.
O God, let me flee into you when all around me threatens
to capture my time, my heart, my soul.
I call upon God, and the Lord will save me. —Psalm
We are never left alone to navigate our way through the traffic
of life. We are taught from childhood to manage our own affairs,
stand up for ourselves, and work to achieve all the things that
will make us successful and contributing members of society.
We experience throughout life the twisty two-lane highways,
the steady and straight freeways, the crowded avenues filled
with sirens and honking horns, and always we are left to choose
how we will respond. We can choose to continue trying to steer
solo, as if we were in ultimate control of our lives. This choice
keeps us teetering on the fringes of life, hoping that self-help
books, support groups, self-talk, or medication can somehow
make it possible for us to travel safely through the byways
of a complicated existence.
The other choice is to lift our eyes, our heart, our mind, our
soul to heaven. To let the self-help books, self-talk, support
groups, medication be the green lights that lead us onward toward
something, Someone, greater than our own selves. This choice
frees the silent unseen voice that rests below the surface of
control, opening it up to the waiting heart of heaven. In one
small prayer, one cry toward God, one call upon the One who
has loved us into being, we know we are never left alone to
navigate our way through the traffic of life.
O God, the choice is always mine to make. You do not force
me to pray to you for help, but your heart always waits for
my feeble cry.
Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and
moan, and he will hear my voice. —Psalm 55:17
God is always ready to hear our prayer. There are no rims or
borders that can block the ears of God. Even time—that
earthly reality through which we order and live our lives—has
no jurisdiction over heaven. We know those rims and borders
all too well in human life. We ‘do’ our lives by
following the hands or digits on the clock.
often feel like there's more to do than there are hours in a
day, and one of the things that we quickly forego is prayer.
We reserve our prayer time for when we are in church, or when
we are in some crisis, or before we eat our meals. We are sure
that God listens to us then, and we feel good about dedicating
those times to communicating with heaven.
We might do well to take the Psalmist’s advice, however.
Imagine speaking with the Holy One in the evening when the shades
of day are drawn and we are preparing to enter the little death
of sleep. Imagine praying when our eyes open to see the shades
of darkness pulled back to give us a new day of life. Imagine
stopping for a few moments in the heat of noontime—the
heat of activity—to pray our way into the remainder of
the day. We would find our hearts quieted, our spirits surging
with gratitude, our souls centered in the breath of God.
O God, you are always ready to hear my prayer. Give me a
heart that is always ready to pray.
all your anxiety on him for he cares for you. —I
We struggle with two problems. First, we live in a culture that
encourages us to develop a positive self-image. We spend countless
hours and money on therapists and self-help books in order to
feel better about ourselves. Yet, we still have the seed of
suspicion within us that we are not really worth caring about.
We silently wonder if we can draw the attention of the Holy
One. “After all,” we tell ourselves, “we’re
only one poor soul among so many. Surely, there are other more
important people than us, with more important problems, beseeching
the ear of heaven.”
Our other problem plagues us precisely because our culture encourages
us to have such a strong self-image. This problem stems from
the thinking that we are responsible for handling all of our
own situations, working through our own issues, settling our
own cares. “Surely,” we hear our inner voice saying,
“we can use our own mind, our own resources to see ourselves
through the difficulties we experience in life. God expects
us to take initiative. Again, we’re only one poor soul
among so many. Other more important people have more important
problems that require God’s intervention.”
Here’s the twist: When we really have a strong self-image,
we are able to glimpse the elasticity of heaven’s care—God
stretches from heaven toward us, and we stretch back. Neither
unworthiness nor self-sufficiency has any power in the life
of the one who is unafraid to pray for God’s assistance,
and receive God’s care.
O God, let me take off my back-pack of burdens, and be bound
up in your care.
merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul
takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by. —Psalm 57:1
When the sirens of an impending tornado are sounding all around
us, we know to take cover, lest we find ourselves battered and
bruised by the vagaries of a force greater than ourselves. We
don’t want to stand still in the midst of the storm and
find ourselves, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, no longer
When the sirens of impending storms are sounding in our soul,
we are tempted either to deny we are in a storm, or face the
storm head-on, thinking that we can, by our own effort, our
own bluster, subdue it. But sometimes what we need most in the
midst of a spiritual storm is to retreat or hide in a safe place
until the agitation settles. When we are in the whirlwind of
the storm, we need to take refuge under the shadow of God’s
may think that simply stepping into the storm with bravado is
the mature thing to do, but we put our souls at risk. What brings
us to a point of stillness is surrender to the Holy One. We
don’t need to ‘do’ anything, ‘force’
anything, ‘fight’ for anything. We need only take
cover; allow our souls to pray out their brokenness and fear;
let go and rest in the hands of heaven. It won’t be long
before the raging tempest inside us becomes as still as a baby
in peaceful, carefree sleep.
O God, when the darkness is as thick as mud in my soul,
let me crawl on my knees into the safety of your embrace.