Prayer: Communion with God
This fall, in our small groups, we are going to be exploring prayer, which is a topic that can elicit all sorts of emotions. Maybe you feel curious because it’s something you’ve never gone deep on. Maybe you feel excited. Maybe you feel panic, thinking your struggles in prayer will be discovered. Maybe you feel guilt and shame.
Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.
Christian life and obedience always exists at the intersection of the heart and habits. We need to ponder profound truths and wrestle with priorities and desires if we are to grow—that addresses the heart. And we need to be concrete, examining the specific ways our habits and practices keep us in sinful ruts rather than reflecting God’s good design. Much Christian discipleship struggles because it neither goes deep enough to really speak to our hearts nor is practical enough to really change our habits.
This failure is especially evident in the arena of prayer. Most of us know probably feel we should pray more. But unless our hearts are really captured by the truth and power of prayer, and unless we work to learn tools and practices to help us do it, we can be left feeling like we need to grow without experiencing growth, which is incredibly discouraging.
The plan for the next few weeks is to spend a little time reflecting on and then practicing different elements of prayer. My hope in these lessons is that you might find both your heart and your habits challenged in ways that draw you closer to God. In particular, we’re both going to explore the “why” of prayer and at the same time try a different sort of prayer each week to form our habits.
For today, we’re going to begin that journey discussing our communion with God. Scripture speaks of the reality that we are in such communion, meaning a personal, loving relationship. John invites us into fellowship with one another as “indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3b) The relationships we as Christians experience with brothers and sisters in Christ is meant to be an outworking of and reflection of our relationship with our heavenly Father through Jesus.
Communion with God is both an objective reality and something we are meant to subjectively experience. It is objective: true of us in Christ, all the time, regardless of where we are at spiritually. Just because we feel that God is distant it doesn’t mean he is; even as we claw our way toward Him, He is in fact not far from any of us. (Acts 17:27) God “raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6) That is accomplished in the cross and resurrection and secured by the Spirit, regardless of how we feel in the moment.
But that communion is meant to be experienced by us in our daily lives, and often we don’t feel it. Because of busyness, because of guilt, because of fear, and because of our limitations in this age, we can feel like God is far away. We must be constantly moving back towards the reality of our communion with the Father and the Son, and one of the primary ways we do that is through prayer.
The Psalmist declares, “On God my salvation and my glory rest; The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:7-8) This reflects both our objective and subjective communion. God is our salvation and glory, our rock and refuge. That is true, all the time. Yet it is by “pouring out our heart before Him” that we enter into the experience of that refuge. We meet with God and open ourselves to Him and what is true comes to be our source of comfort and rest.
Theologically, that should remind us of the simplest and most powerful fact of prayer: when we pray, God is with us. He hears us. He enfolds us. He is within and around us, attentive to our words and our hearts. In prayer, we are actually meeting with God!
The author of Hebrews describes prayer as “boldly approaching the throne of grace.” (Hebrews 4:16) In Scripture, God’s presence is imaged as a throne room where He sits in shining glory. From that throne He rules over all of creation, pictured as a transparent floor which is for us the sky, with God looking down from His seat of power over all the world. In prayer though, it is not that our words simply float as distant echoes up through that glassy sea. No, in Jesus we enter the throne room itself. We stand before the seat of God, in the burning radiance of His glory, and speak to Him as with a Father who loves us. When we pray, we are truly in communion with God, and He listens to us not as a king receives letters from distant subjects but as a parent listens to a children sitting on their lap.
Practically, that means that we need to make space for our prayers to breathe in the presence of God. Too often we hurry through times of prayer with our heads down, trying to get through a list of requests and confessions without raising our eyes to behold the Father who bends down to us. We need to work in prayer to feel God’s presence even as we pour out our hearts.
One way Christians have historically sought to do this is by encouraging different forms of communing prayer, taking a few moments of silence to open ourselves relationally to God before we speak to Him. For example, during times of morning prayer, I often begin with 5-7 minutes of silent contemplation. I’ll take either a single verse of Scripture or a simple saying and meditate on it. Sometimes it is the historic prayer “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Other times it is an even simpler statement like “God is here” or “He is with me.” I just sit with that truth, breathing, meditating on God’s presence.
Does that always lead to some deep, mystical experience? Of course not, although there have been moments where I have felt something like that. But what it does is reframe my prayers that follow as part of my communion. It reminds me of the truth that God is there, He does have mercy, and every word I speak after that is spoken before the throne of the Father of grace.
- How do you feel about diving into the topic of prayer? Is it something you’ve found great joy in? Is it a struggle, a source of guilt?
- You exist, every moment, in communion with God. What are some ways that is objectively true? Why do you think we can struggle to feel like it is the case?
- If we are in such communion, how should this transform our prayer life as a whole?
- How do you feel about the idea of communing prayer? Have you tried a form of it in the past?
Practice: Have everyone separate and take five minutes (set a timer if it helps) to have each group member silently sit and reflect on their communion with God. If it helps, try meditating on this passage: “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)