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Jul 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 19, 2015 – Lamentations 3:19-26

Contemplative Prayer Part Three
One Way To Get Started

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and the bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new ever morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the
LORD. Lamentations 3:19-26

Intro: Almost dead center in this heartbreaking song of despair, a light shines

One minute, the poet’s “hope from the LORD” had perished (v. 18)
– in the next minute he announces, “I have hope” (twice: vv. 21 & 24)
• nothing of his world had changed in his favor
• but he remembered something and realized something (besides his “affliction”)
◦ that God’s mercy and compassion never fail, but are “new every morning”
◦ and the LORD was his “portion” – not things of this world that lay in ruin around him
– in his worst misery, he could turn toward God and find relief — How?

The poet used well-known ways of being with God in prayer
– he knew to seek God and he knew to wait for God
• to be in prayer like this anticipated an encounter and required the soul’s full attention
• it is tempting to think of this as Christianity’s lost legacy of prayer
◦ but Christian traditions, not co-opted by rationalism, have kept seeking and waiting alive
– Contemplative Prayer is very much a matter of seeking and waiting
• here I will suggest one of the possible ways of entering Contemplative Prayer

When you want to be with God for himself

SIT somewhere quiet and peaceful
– it’s not necessary to sit or to have absolute silence
• for some of us, that is impossible, but it is optimal
• think, “When I sit, I situate myself”–in this place, at this time
◦ I am orienting my life and everything in and around it to God
– I want to adopt a posture that is respectful and alert (more on this further down)
• but I also want to relax into God’s presence
◦ when we relax our body, mind is at peace
◦ a stressed mind, tenses the body
• a simple relaxation exercise can be a first phase of prayer

SAY A SHORT, SIMPLE PRAYER — “Call on Me,” God tells us (Ps. 50:15)
– God revealed his name so, by it we reach out to him

In my distress I called upon the LORD,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears. (Psalm 18:6)

• this is our objective, to become aware of our connection to God
• I like to say, “Here I am”
◦ but you could also take a deep breath and as you exhale, say, “Jesus”
– begin wherever you are in that moment
• what is your mood? what do you feel? – label like you would a lab specimen
◦ present whatever you have to God, “Here I am and here is what I am feeling”
• when you cannot pray or do not feel like praying, that is where you begin your prayer
◦ we can only give God what we have now and only be with him as we are now
◦ there is no reason to hold back anything, because all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Heb. 4:13), and it is within his power to change us

Gerald May, “God is here now whether we sense it or not. We are here now. The situation is here now. The insight is here now. . . . And we must act right here and now where grace is.” [emphasis mine]

– having you been holding your breath? has it been rapid? shallow?
• our respiration rate can tell us something about our mental state
◦ tense? irritable? desperate? – again, this is what we present this to God
– there are two great breath-moments in scripture:
• when God breathed life into humankind (Ge. 2:7) — every breath is a gift of life
• when Jesus breathed the new life of his Spirit into his disciples (Jn. 20:22)

– “present your bodies” (Ro. 12:1-2) – notice the sensations you feel, external and internal
• take an inventory from head to toes or toes to head
◦ where do you feel comfort or discomfort? tense or relaxed? achy or nothing?
◦ doing this helps to ground us in the present moment
• resist making positive or negative assessments about your feelings
◦ my brain has been trained to interpret every muscle pain negatively — “It’s my fault. I’m a loser”
◦ we want to observe our experience of this present moment without judgment
– what we do with our bodies in prayer is important — “body language”
• in scripture, prayer is expressed in a variety of postures and gestures
• praying with the body engages our awareness more fully
◦ stand, kneel, lie prone, hands lifted, eyes closed (the downward gaze: respect, reverence)

Francois Fenelon, “Give yourself up to Him, and close your eyes. This walk of faith, such as Abraham’s, [not knowing where you are going], is a noble walk, and full of blessings. Then God Himself will be your guide, and will journey with you.” [emphasis mine]

– sounds (usually filtered out), temperature, smells, textures, etc.
• be aware of objects and empty space between yourself and those objects – it is not empty!
for in Him we live and move and exist (Acts 17:28)

– this is where we “seek” God, but how does one look for God?
• it is not geographical search, or intellectual, or with the five senses
◦ at first, the space where we look for God seems empty
◦ not because it is empty, but our sensibility to his presence has atrophied–God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24)
• we are looking for “pearl” of great value and we won’t know it until we find it (Mt. 13:45-46)
– this is also where we “wait”
• we temporarily set aside our issues, thoughts, drives — all the things of this world
◦ “It is good that he waits silently” (v. 26) — we silence the self; we quiet our voices to hear God’s

My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
My soul waits in silence for God only;
For my hope is from Him. (Psalm 62:1, 5)

• but this is not a passive waiting – it is also watching
◦ imagine sitting at the control panel of a nuclear power plant
▫ monitoring gauges – is that “waiting” for something to register passive or active?
◦ whale watching – you cannot make whales appear
▫ you may not even know the first sign, but you look for it while you wait
▫ more motivated you are to meet with God, the more actively you wait
– it may be significant that the psalmist says, “My soul waits..”
• it stresses the interior nature of this type of prayer
◦ it may also indicate, a part of us we are not familiar with or do not understand
• Paul talks about a prayer when , my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful (1 Cor. 14:14)
◦ learn to be at peace with this
◦ God’s Spirit works in our spirits, regardless of what our heads think or our hearts feel

– the mind wanders or thoughts and feelings intrude into prayer
• we’ll come back in a couple of weeks, but for now
• treat your mind as if it were a three-year-old
◦ you know it will keep running off, going where it is not supposed to go
◦ when it does, retrieve it and kindly bring it back – you may be amused, but don’t scold
(this is what we expect three-year-olds do)
▫ usually two controlled, deep breaths is enough to clear unwanted thoughts
▫ eventually, the brain forms habits of doing this naturally

– Let God do his work – keep your hands off the ark! (2 Sam. 6:6-7)
• we do not get to choose what our moment with God will be
◦ it isn’t your time, but God’s
• on the flip-side, you are not responsible for it
◦ so do not try too hard to experience something and do not force a feeling – trust God
◦ our goal isn’t a spiritual feeling, but the change God effects in us
– priming (seeding) can help – get the mind moving toward God before the prayer

Abbot John Chapman, “Reading a little, or one minute’s consideration of some great truth, or a few prayers, may be very useful to help recollection at the beginning of prayer.”

– props can help (at first) – quiet music, incense, guided meditations
• discover your preferences – what works best for you is between God and you
• you can also expect your preferences to change in time
– suspend doubts – this is not the time for your intellectual struggles
– stay close to God’s Spirit and God’s grace
• the Spirit leads our wordless prayers (Ro. 8:16-17)
• God’s grace is what lifts up into his Spirit through prayer — it is mostly imperceptible

Conc: Devote some time every day to seeking and waiting

A few minutes when God is everything and you are fully present to him

I would love to see us open more and more to God
– all of us, aware of his presence with us
• on Sundays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and our one-to-one conversations

And I could not care less what we would call that, whether “Reflexion,” “Church,” or “Sinners, Incorporated.” The label is irrelevant so long as our ongoing experience of God in Jesus Christ and by his Spirit continues to satisfy the hunger of our souls

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