Plant Seeds of Prayer This Spring“God, make a fresh start in me”
Among my favorite moments as a parent are those spent with my children in our backyard vegetable garden. When my two children were in grade school, my son only helped when I begged him to, but my daughter loved donning an old-fashioned dress like a pioneer woman’s and helping me plant, weed and harvest the garden. She delighted in bringing a fresh tomato or cucumber to our dinner table and hearing everyone’s remarks about how much better homegrown produce tastes. There is something magnificent about planting a seed, watching it grow and tasting the results fresh from the garden.
The same is true in our spiritual lives. A satisfying harvest awaits those who plant wisely and tend the crops well. There may be nothing better and more promising to plant than seeds of prayer.
Most of us realize there is more to this life than we are enjoying, and we sense that this is partly due to a lack of prayer. Remember, Jesus promised that sincere prayer would bring rewards. He said, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6, ESV). So how can we do that? What can we do this spring, to plant seeds in our lives that will bring a harvest of prayer and the rewards that come with it?
I took a trip some time ago with my wife, the lovely Robin, to speak at a conference in Colorado. We made our way from the gate to baggage claim on a moving walkway. We met our driver, who bypassed tollbooths with her E-ZPass. On the flight home, I got excited about a magazine article on buying groceries online. I’m sure we saved a huge amount of time that week, but we somehow still got home late and exhausted.
We have adopted a hurried lifestyle punctuated with spasms of activity. We speed frantically through work and leisure, not realizing that our chaos diminishes and detracts from our lives and makes only the most perfunctory prayer possible. You may believe the pace of your life is beyond your control, but you can take charge; it just takes effort and planning to go slowly. Take my advice:
Follow your schedule first.
Most of us feel frenzied because we let others control our schedule. That’s why it is crucial to proactively block out “margin,” “down time” or “slowdown moments” in your calendar. Then, when someone asks you to take on more, you can honestly respond, “I have something scheduled at that time.”
Learn to say no.
Our lives become overloaded when we say yes too often to too many people. We end up living out the truth of Proverbs 20:25: “An impulsive vow is a trap. Later you wish you could get out of it” (The Message). Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. So learn to say no. Here is a phrase I have used so much I should copyright it: “I would love to say yes, but I have to say no.” Try it. Learning to say no will help you learn to go slow.
Choose slow activities whenever possible.
You don’t have to beat that stoplight. You don’t have to be in your seat for the first pitch. You don’t have to park so close to the grocery store entrance; you may even use the extra steps to the door to pray. By choosing slow activities several times a day, you may not only forestall a heart attack or an ulcer but may also create new space in your life for moments of prayer and reflection.
Have you ever noticed that most of the life-changing experiences of people in the Bible occurred when they were alone? Moses was alone on a mountain when he saw the burning bush. Jacob sent his entourage across the Jabbok and was left alone, where he wrestled with God until daybreak. Joshua encountered the captain of the Lord’s host when he was alone by the Jordan River.
Elijah heard the still, small voice while alone in a desert cave. Peter was alone on a rooftop and John was in a cave on the island of Patmos when they each had important prayer experiences.
Henri Nouwen once wrote, “God dwells only where man steps back to give him room.” Solitude is a way of doing that. If you are an introvert, you already crave such moments. If you are an extrovert, finding solitude will be crucial to creating the soil and climate in which prayer can grow and flourish in your life. You don’t have to find large swaths of time to be utterly alone with no human contact. Jacob and Joshua both managed to step away from the activity of a large campsite. Peter’s rooftop retreat may have been one of only a few places he could find solitude in the busy port city of Joppa.
Like them, you may need to step away from a family gathering or a busy workplace to grab a little solitude during your daily life. A friend of mine takes a noontime jog every workday not only for the exercise but also for the solitude it offers. Another friend bought a small boat so he would have a place to retreat regularly from the pressures of life and ministry. You may be able to go to a spare room, workshop or park bench. Or maybe you can just turn off your phone and shut down the computer from time to time and let things go dark and quiet.
I once became so frustrated with my own prayerlessness that I scheduled a four-day silent prayer retreat at a monastery in Kentucky. There I encountered the Rule of St. Benedict, which demands silence, and the opus Dei (work of God) that constitutes the rhythm of the monks’ lives. They meet for prayer seven times a day every day. I determined that, for the first twenty-four hours, at least, I would follow that rhythm, speaking only in worship and prayer and being silent otherwise.
On day two, I went to lunch with the others, monks and non-monks alike. I silently walked down the staircase from the sanctuary to the dining room, silently filed through the cafeteria line, silently filled my tray with food, silently walked to an empty chair and silently sat down. And then, when I bowed my head over my tray to say grace, I realized I was already praying. I’d been praying on the stairs, in the cafeteria line, as I filled my tray with food, as I walked to an empty chair and as I sat down. I’d been praying since the moment I awoke that morning. Less than one full day into the silent rhythm of that community, I experienced the literal fulfillment of the Bible’s command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, KJV).
Silence, in short snatches or long stretches, will grow and blossom into prayer like nothing else. It will foster two-way communication with God. It will surprise you and change you. Together with going slower and seeking solitude, attaining silence can be the means by which God calls forth new growth in your life this spring. Those simple seeds can be an answer to your heart’s longing. As The Message paraphrase of the Bible puts it: “God, make a fresh start in me” (Psalm 51:10, The Message).
Bob Hostetler is a writer whose 37 books include The Red Letter Life and the upcoming The Red Letter Prayer Life.