setting the table to pray

When I was in my late teens, I was really really passionate about seeking the Lord. So passionate, in fact, that after reading a few books on revival and the “godly habits of godly people,” I pretty much burned myself out in prayer. And ever since, I’ve been a bit gun shy when it comes to my prayer life.

Recently God has been calling me to live with far more emphasis on prayer and daily seeking him, so I have to get over my qualms. I’ve been reading Prayer by Richard J. Foster, and yesterday this paragraph, advice given to a young man who was desperately trying to hear from God through a passage of Scripture, spoke to me:

“You’re trying too hard . . . You’re trying to control God. Go back to this passage and this time be open to receive whatever God has for you. Don’t manipulate God; just receive. Communion with him isn’t something you institute. It’s like sleep. You can’t make yourself sleep, but you can create the conditions that allow sleep to happen. All I want you to do is to create the conditions: open your Bible, read it slowly, listen to it, and reflect on it.”

It seems to me this advice holds true for all of spiritual life, not just lectio divina or specific types of prayer. In Luke 11 Jesus tells us to ask (not demand), seek (not create), and knock (not grab a crowbar and force the door). Any approach to God means coming empty handed and waiting humbly for him to give, reveal, and open the door.

If he decides to remain silent, that’s fine. We can still come, being faithful to create conditions. It’s sort of like being a servant and setting the table every morning, laying out a beautiful breakfast and fine china, even though it’s possible the master will decide to show up late or eat somewhere else. Laying out the table, with love and reverence, is still an act of service and love. It’s up to the master to decide how to accept that act.

I think prayer is a little like this as well. Creating the conditions can be, in itself, an act of worship. We do not decide how God will respond to that worship. But we know that he will respond–ask, seek, knock; receive, find, come through the door.






5 responses to “setting the table to pray”

  1. Meredith Leigh Burton Avatar

    I love this post. I express myself most effectively through writing and have found that I tend to focus better when I write my prayers down. I am often tongu-tied and I ramble when I speak. How comforting that, even when we falter in our prayer life, as I have done countless times, our Father knows what we need before we ask.

    Yes, often God responds when we are silent and wait upon Him. This task is by no means easy, for our feeble flesh craves instant gratification and answers. God desires to fellowship with us. He does not desire to listen to a list of our demands, but to truly socialize with us like a friend meeting us for a mug of frothy cocoa with whipped cream. I loved your imagery of the intimate place setting. How truly powerful!

    I am also reminded of Lucy Pevensie’s midnight meeting with Aslan, the Great Lion, in Prince Caspian while the others slept. Christ is not only our Savior, but He is our brother who truly empathizes and wants to be involved in our day-to-day lives.

    Thank you.

  2. Rachel Avatar

    Hello Natalie,

    Thank you for taking the time to write such an in-depth comment! I fully agree with you that it is important and necessary to rightly divide the Word of Truth, to meditate with our minds engaged, and to take Bible study seriously. Actually, I’ve written about all those things multiple times. A few of my articles pretty much show my position on this:

    “Kitchen-Table Bible Scholar”:
    “What We Don’t Know”:
    “Four Habits of a Pulpit Critic”:

    However, prayer is not Bible study, and Bible study is not prayer. Should prayer always be rooted in Bible study and the truths God has revealed in His Word? Absolutely. Do we seek for or run with revelation outside of the Scriptures? No. But we are still called to pray, not just to read our Bibles and study them. Jesus spent time in prayer. The apostles spent time in prayer. All of the prophets and saints of the New Testament spent time in prayer.

    I can’t come to Richard Foster’s defence too heavily because I’ve only read one of his books, but I found it to be grounded in Scripture and quite balanced. I don’t recommend reading ANY book without discernment, and that would include Foster’s (I did take issue with a few practices/things he said). But I still found the book to be of value.

    The quote I used in this post, in particular, aptly describes a way I treated God that totally burned me out and almost caused a crisis of faith. Foster’s advice here basically boils down to that we can’t make God do anything, but we still need to approach Him in prayer and let Him do what He will. And I find that to be good advice.

    Again, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it deeply.

  3. Natalie Avatar

    Dear Sister-in-the-Lord, may I humbly warn you in love that Richard Foster’s books are very enticing, but contain leaven that contaminates the whole lump. I was first exposed to one of his books, Celebration of Discipline, as a young, homeschool mom attending a ladies’ “bible study”. As we 30-something Christian women delved into the book, we became increasingly uncomfortable with parts of it, but we weren’t biblically grounded enough to know why. We were all hungry to know God more through His word, but were rather clueless as to how to go about it. We tried meditating on topical words out of context, something else akin to lecto divino, etc. Five years later, our family moved to a new home & church and I joined a Precept Bible Study. There I learned how to rightly divide the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15). I came to see that Paul’s admonition to Timothy in that verse, “Be diligent (“Study” – KJV) to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”, is for all Christians and is, in the original translation, a command. To obey that command, I needed to learn how to rightly divide his words. And that meant coming to his word objectively first, rather than subjectively or mystically. Looking first, unselfishly, at what God, through his prophets & apostles, was saying to the people of that time – not my time. And asking what was happening then in their culture, why did God need to speak to them & what did God want them to do, etc.? I learned that only after much objective observation can you accurately interpret the meaning of the text for that time. But once you discover what God was saying in the past, it comes to light what God is saying to His church and to you right now! God has not hidden His truth from us so that we must sit & wait for Him to speak. He has already spoken! We have the Word of God. Once I learned how to really study (“rightly dividing the word of truth”), that process, that work of “a worker who does not need to be ashamed”, became my “devotional” time. My thirst was quenched & I’ve never been dry since. My hunger was satisfied and there is new manna each day! And as for “meditation”, it is good to chew on truth God has already revealed with your mind fully engaged, but please beware of the false mediation being promoted today that seductively instructs you to “still” your mind (through measured breathing, repeating a word, chanting, meditative music, etc.) , focus on whatever bible word stands out (out of context!) & wait for God to reveal Himself – when He already has! May I plead with you to become “approved to God . . .” (II Tim. 2:15)

  4. Rachel Starr Thomson Avatar

    You’re welcome. Thanks for being so open about your own story, too! I think this is actually really common. We need experience and maturity to be able to handle some things, but we’re not often taught that we can take the time to develop those things and that we can just let God be God. Maybe I’ll write more about this topic soon.

  5. Katherine Sophia Avatar

    “When I was in my late teens, I was really really passionate about seeking the Lord. So passionate, in fact, that after reading a few books on revival and the “godly habits of godly people,” I pretty much burned myself out in prayer. And ever since, I’ve been a bit gun shy when it comes to my prayer life.”

    Thank you for saying that… There have been several times when I have gone, if possible, overboard with my praying, which sounds weird. But one year I did not watch any movies or even really read any fun books for months – I basically cut everything out of my life that wasn’t spiritual (except school). 😛 Sometimes I think that is good… but I did it so suddenly and hard I just about gave myself whiplash, and even now I find myself having trouble finding a balance between spending time praying and reading the Bible, and spending time with Him in other ways, since, after all, I have always learned sooo much about Him through fiction.

    I just never heard anyone else say that before… and since God has been calling me to spend more time alone with Him also, this was just really helpful. 🙂

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