We’ve all done it.
With love and care, we’ve carefully and intentionally created a sacred space – perhaps a favorite chair in the corner of the sunroom, with a small table holding a good lamp, a potted plant, a journal, a Bible, and a favorite devotional. Set the alarm a half-hour early. And vowed that this time, this time, we would be diligent about starting each day with prayer.
The next morning, bright and early, we’ll make a cup of tea and settle into the chair. Marvel at the early morning light filtering through the blinds. And…
And find that once again we’re not quite sure what to say. And we’ve forgotten to pack Emma’s lunch, and the laundry is waiting, and there’s a meeting at church this morning. Forgive us, Lord – again!
Prayer is conversation with God – our Creator, our Savior, our Redeemer, our first and dearest Friend. Yet with our best friends, the words flow like running water, overlaid with bubbling rivulets of easy laughter. Why is it that something that we wish were as natural as breathing can turn out to be … well, so hard?
Exploring some of the surprisingly simple answers to this question can help any woman bring a boost to this most important part of her walk of faith.
First, starting the day with prayer can seem, well, selfish. The minute our feet hit the floor each morning, we can think of a dozen or two items on our to-do list that need to be checked off ASAP – most of them on someone else’s behalf. No sooner do we settle into our “prayer chair,” than our oughts overcome our thoughts. Restless and distracted, we tell ourselves that we’ll tend to our own needs later.
In fact, just like the cell phone we slip into purse or pocket, we function better when we have been recharged. Choosing to give the day’s first half hour to God is not selfish – it’s selfless. When the first words we speak are words of thanksgiving, petitions for others, and asking for help, we’ve made sure to put God at the top of that overloaded to-do list. The simple act of intentionally inviting God to accompany us through the day enables us to bring our best to every task that lies ahead. In the story of Jesus’ visit to two sisters in Bethany (recounted in Luke 10:38-42), Martha charged through her hostess duties, resentful that no one was helping her. Mary, meanwhile, knew that whatever needed doing, time with Jesus was the way to begin. As Jesus told the sisters, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Lk. 10:42).
When we, like Mary, put prayer at the top of our list, we’ve done something for ourselves that turns into something for others. Recharged, and reminded of our priorities, we have “chosen what is better” – for everyone.
Second, we often forget that prayer is meant to be a dialogue – not a monologue. Eli advised his pupil Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9), but in reality we might say, “Listen, Lord, for your servant is speaking.” The Scriptures provide us with many compelling examples of the importance of listening to God, including in 1 Kings, when Elijah could hear the voice of God not in fire or in whirlwind, but in a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). It’s important that we make time for silence so we can intentionally listen for the “gentle whisper” throughout the day. We need to be able to say, with Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
We now understand the importance of starting each day with prayer and making time for silence – time to listen to God. Now it’s time to speak. What do we say?
A simple acronym can help us here: PACT, which stands for Praise, Ask, Confess, Thank.
We begin by praising God, which can help remind us of God’s many attributes. Addressing God as “the all-knowing Creator,” “loving and eternal,” or “most good and gracious,” brings clarity and focus to our time of speaking to God. Beginning with praise can snap us out of the feeling of rote recital and really open our eyes to the wonder and majesty of the Most High.
Reminded of the wisdom and never-ending faithfulness of God, it becomes easy to give thanks for the gift of a new day; for whatever vision and mobility we have been granted; for God’s unfailing love; for the opportunity to serve.
With new appreciation for God’s endless gifts, we confess to our failures. Because we are human, we are imperfect: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Paul reminds us (Rom. 3:23). God already knows of our doubts, our anger, our judgments and our distractions. God knows. To name them before God in prayer is a crucial first step for us in seeking forgiveness.
Grateful, humbled, and forgiven, we ask for whatever we need: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it,” Jesus tells us (Jn. 14:14). On some mornings, this might be a request for strength and courage for the tasks of the day. On other mornings, we might bring to God petitions for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Always, we should remember the guideline that Christ gave us by example in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).
When the to-do lists overwhelm us, and we’re not sure what to say, that is when we are most in need of that sacred start to the day. Let us … pray.
The Rev. Beth Woodard is associate pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hickory, North Carolina. A graduate of Warren Wilson College and Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Pastor Woodard is married and the mother of two teenagers and two miniature dachshunds.