It was an interesting several years for me. I had an hour every day to walk in the woods. I chose to spend the time sauntering, decompressing, and especially talking with God.
My habit – what seemed good to me – was to spend the first part of these prayer times in getting connected with the Guy I was talking to. So rather than start with the business of prayer (“I need this; Suzie needs that, please heal Johnnie…”), I began with attention to the relationship and to my sensitivity to the relationship.
Often enough, I’d begin with something like, “So what’s on your mind today, Father?” Unfortunately, these times with him were in the middle of a pretty intense day, and so my mind, my soul, was still kind of racing. That didn’t always connect so well, though I think he liked being asked.
I got into the habit of praying in tongues for a while. If you’ve been around the Internet from the early days, if you’ve ever had to deal with dial-up internet access, you remember the strange noises your modem made while it was hooking up to what passed for the internet in those days. I kind of figured these times praying in tongues were like those noises: getting my spirit connected with his Spirit so we would be able to actually communicate.
But I’d pray in tongues until I felt like we had connected. Sometimes I’d pray in tongues for just a few hundred yards of walking. Occasionally, I’d spend my whole hour in tongues, working to connect to his “mainframe.” Sometimes it took a lot longer to settle my soul down!
There were days when I felt the need to pray a particular Bible verse during our introduction time; I’d look it up (first in the pocket Bible I carried; later on my phone), and pray through it, and go back to praying in tongues until I’d connected my heart with his.
That sense was pretty subtle; I was just waiting for that feeling on my inside that said my attention wasn’t on my busy day, but was on him. It’s rather like that “done” sense that tells me that I’ve covered what I needed in prayer and it’s time to move on now.
So I’d pray in tongues until I sensed that we’d connected, and then I’d move on. Because of my good, evangelical upbringing that was so attentive to sin, I’d often spend some time asking him to search my heart for sin.
Again, this wasn’t perfunctory. I wanted to have all of my insides, all of my secrets open before him. If you’d asked me why I thought that was a good thing, I’m not sure I could have given you a reason, but I was convinced (and still am) that if I want God to be open with me, then I need to be as open as I am able to be with him.
Fairly often, as I was searching my heart, he’d bring my attention to some attitude or action that needed attention. I’d talk with him about it. I never heard him speaking words to me in these times, but often enough, I’d ask him questions about this thing in my heart, and then a new thought would drift into my heart: I always assumed that it was his reply and this assumption never once led me astray.
Pretty often, the root issue boiled down to me trusting me more than me trusting him in this area. For a while, my response (again, from my evangelical history) would be to feel bad and make promises (aka vows) to do better. I’d try to “fix” it. He never seemed impressed with this.
Over time, I came to the place where I’d stop trusting in myself to fix it, and I’d just agree with him about it. “Yeah, I agree: I’ve trusted me more than I’ve trusted you. And yeah, that’s not a very smart thing to do, is it? You know, you’ve actually been trustworthy in my life, haven’t you. I really can trust you, even with this, can’t I? Help me to stay in touch with that truth, please? You really are that good, aren’t you?” That brought far more change in my life.
All of that – and sometimes it was the whole walk and the next day, too, but mostly it was several minutes – all that was just the introduction. Computer networks call it the “error-checking” part of “negotiating the handshake.”
And then I’d bring up the issues on my heart. I had tried prayer lists, and there weren’t disastrous, but I discovered that there were advantages to praying about the issues on my heart instead of a list.
First, I don’t see prayer as a business transaction (though that model is not without some benefit); instead, I approach prayer as a relationship. That works better for me. Shopping lists have there place. My relationship with my Dad is not one of them.
Second, it seemed to me that God was far more interested in what was on my heart than in the items that needed checking off on the list.
And really, the issues on my heart were very often things that I’d put on that list anyway. But I’d bring it as a thing that I cared about, not as a duty. That was important to me. That made a difference to me in these times.
I prayed about my marriage, my family, my relationships, my missionary friends, concerns local and global. Hmm. That doesn’t sound right. Let me say it this way: the more I related with Father, the more I found myself caring about the issues that he cared about, and the more often I’d bring those issues back to him and we’d discuss them.
Again, I’d talk (always out loud: frankly, it kept my mind from wandering), and I’d interpret the stray thoughts that crossed my mind in those times as his side of the conversation, and it always seemed right. (Luke 11:13: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” I could trust him that these responses were from the Holy Spirit.)
Occasionally, the thoughts would be specific, often including new information that I hadn’t known before (and that proved to be true “back in the real world”). That wasn’t the big deal. The big deal was that I was hanging out with my Father.
I grew to really love these conversations. Rarely, we’d actually converse, where we’d both use words, me out loud, him in my mind.
One time I’d been praying energetically about something that bothered me. No, actually I’d been whining. He seemed to wait until I paused to take a breath, and he interrupted me. “Are you done yet?” I literally stopped in the middle of the trail and laughed. He went on to teach me about one of Jesus’s parables. I tried not to whine too much after that day. Besides, it was a good lesson!
There was a while (more than a year) that he required me to pray 1Corinthians 14:1: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” That went on so long that it got tiring. “Teach me love, and I’m asking for spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. OK, can we go on now?” In those days, I’m not sure I believed in prophecy in any practical sense, but I prayed it anyway. He seemed to think that was enough.
After a year of that daily prayer, a prophet called me out in a meeting. “God says you’ve been asking him for prophetic gifts….” And he went on to talk about that. Yeah, I felt set up, but in a really good way, a cared-for way.
These days, I no longer have that hour in the woods every day, but I try to maintain the same “conversing with God” throughout the day. Frankly, talking with God on a peaceful, wooded trail is easier than staying actually connected throughout the day.
I’m still working out the details of this season, so I can’t talk about it much. The past season is in clearer focus. I thought I’d share it in case it might be helpful to some folks who are interested in having that kind of season with God. It’s probably worth asking him about.