You want to pray, but have nothing left to give. Simply focusing on God’s word is one response – and it has had a profound impact at an East Midlands church, writes Ruth Rice.
I remember vividly the moment when I knew there was something missing in my prayer life and in our church’s teaching on prayer.
I was sitting with a good friend who had recently lost her husband, very suddenly and had turned from her Christian faith towards Buddhism. “Christianity just doesn’t have enough practices to hold me when I have nothing in me to give.” she said.
Something in me rose up at this. Surely all the practices that would do us good in times of loss and pain should be found in the One who suffered for us and is always with us. But I knew what she meant. So often people feel that church offers just enough to get us from Sunday to midweek meeting, a booster shot for the week ahead, some songs, a word, a sermon. Just enough.
But I was aware that we were not teaching people how to live in and practise that beautiful presence of God every day, even in the worst of days. Or if we thought we were, that message was not getting through.
I began to explore practices of contemplation and meditation that my Brethren-rooted, Word-based, Spirit-filled charismatic sensibilities had largely dismissed as a bit woolly! Many of you are way ahead of me here in knowing the riches to be mined in these ancient practices that the church at large is reclaiming for its own.
Our journey together as a church began when I asked if anyone wanted to do a short course to help them deepen their prayer life. I had been using a lovely book by Joyce Rupp, The Cup of Our Life, a six-week course in contemplative prayer. This was to meet a direct need in me after a long period of self induced exhaustion and voice loss caused by me as a wife, Mum, full time teacher and church leader forgetting that I was not God and that I was more fragile than I thought.
After discovering that busyness is NOT next to godliness I devoured the practices Joyce Rupp taught. Centring prayer, breath prayer, lectio divina (the spiritual reading of the word), journalling, stillness, silence…a daily rhythm of time spent just practising the presence of God.
We now have several groups meeting at different times in the week helping folk develop holy habits based on meditating on the Psalms. What has amazed and delighted me is the impact these simple times of shared stillness and silence around the Word have on those who are unchurched and the great source of help and comfort they are to those in pain.
I am a deeply missional sort of leader but I had not anticipated at all the hunger in people to meet God in this way. A dear lady joined one of our groups with her church friend and found that the practices of breath prayer and centring on a phrase from the Psalms took her right into the presence of Jesus as she battled with cancer.
She taught us things she had practiced when in the MRI tunnel, ways to deepen the sense of peace. And although we prayed constantly for healing it was still an amazing privilege to sit with her in the hospice on her last day on earth and see her using breath prayer and meditation one last time to help her take that last deep breath and emerge face to face with Jesus.
Another lady who had lost one daughter and was about to lose a second to cancer found the meditation on “He is my Stronghold” enough to restore her faith and carry her through some of the darkest months of her life.
The practices we were rediscovering as we sat together in quietness, “taking our thoughts captive” and choosing to breathe in the truths in His word became a lifeline to folk with mental health issues, those who were struggling with being house bound, the over busy, the dechurched (those who had left church but not really wanted to lose their faith).
Our groups are still expanding: neighbours, friends, family members, some groups of two or three where church comes to them in the simplicity of the habits shared, some groups outgrowing the front rooms in which they started …a hunger for space in a mad busy world. A desire to have some practices so that our “resting thought rate” is full of grace and truth.
To my friend who lost her husband I can now say, “Please give us another chance, we have dug deeper and think we’ve found some practices that are richer and more sustaining than anything else you have tried.”
Be still and know that He is indeed God.
Ruth Rice is the pastor of New Life Baptist Church in West Bridgford and is on the leadership team of Fresh Streams
This article appears in the Spring 2014 edition of Together Magazine