January 22, 2015

Finding Your Own Rhythm for Prayer

By Upper Room Books

6-hands-beads-low-res-22When should I pray? How often and how long? Should I pray out loud or not? What should I say?

These are some of the questions people often raise when we teach workshops on prayer. To be honest, they are questions we ourselves have struggled with at times. Behind these questions is the idea that there is one right way to pray. We worry we may not be doing it right. We have found some assurance in studying the history of Christian spirituality. There, we’ve seen multiple cycles and rhythms of prayer offered over the centuries. Some leaders have supported a practice of praying three times a day – morning, midday, and evening – based on passages like Psalm 55:17 and Daniel’s practice of praying three times a day. Others thought a practice of morning and evening prayer were the foundation of a life of prayer. Benedict, in his monastic rule, set out a schedule of seven hours each day when prayers should be offered, based on Psalm 119:164. This led to the liturgy of the “divine hours”or “daily office,”which many Christians pray today.

But we’ve also learned a lot about prayer from the people around us. A few years ago, we joined a gym. Max went to meet with a personal trainer who would help him develop a fitness routine. After they finished introducing themselves and filling out the requisite paperwork, Max was ready to begin his training session. But rather then lead him to the equipment, the trainer simply asked Max to “just breathe.”“That’s it?”Max wondered. He had anticipated doing bench presses, squats, and other taxing exercises. How would sitting still and breathing help? But the trainer needed a baseline – a starting point. She wanted Max to breathe naturally, following his own rhythm. This rhythm would prove useful as she worked with Max to increase his fitness level.

What the Christian leaders – and Max’s trainer – show us is the importance of developing our own rhythm. That looks different for each one of us. Are you someone who prefers to spend one long period in prayer each day? Or would you rather have brief moments of prayer spread out across the day? Does the idea of beginning and ending each day in prayer fit your disposition best? Do you prefer to read a prayer written by someone or use your own words? Do you like to walk or sit outside while you pray? What works for you?

The good news is, there is no wrong way to pray. So try different things to see what works for you, knowing that what works for you one day may not work for you the next. What’s important is finding and paying attention to your own rhythm.

One aspect of the rhythm of prayer that has grown for us in recent years is incorporating a cycle of speaking and listening in prayer. We speak our praise, confession, intercessions, and thanksgivings to God. And we listen for what God is speaking to us in these same areas: what is God saying to us in terms of how we might praise God, or what we might confess, intercede, or give thanks for?

Using beads in our prayer time helps us to maintain a rhythm: when our minds get distracted, the feel of the beads helps us refocus. When we are busy and forget to pray, the prayer beads call to us, reminding us of our need to spend time with God. When we wonder whether God is listening, we squeeze the beads and are reminded that God is as present as the beads between our fingers. They help our minds to become still, creating a space where we can listen for God’s voice. In that space we hear our breath and the breath of the One who spoke us into being. And there we find Peace.

© Gerald Patrick Photography


© Gerald Patrick Photography

Kristen E. Vincent is the award-winning author of A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner’s Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads. Max Vincent is pastor of Allen Memorial United Methodist Church on the Oxford campus of Emory University. Together they are authors of Another Bead, Another Prayer: Devotions to Use with Prayer Beads.

Another Bead, Another Prayer

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