The cultural moment we live in can inhibit us from seeing the beauty and benefits of those who have walked before us. Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been a number of practices that have shaped Jesus communities. Some of these ancient prayer exercises might be helpful to you as you seek to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.
- The sign of the cross: Before the sign of the cross was practiced only by Catholics, it was practiced by all followers of Jesus. In fact, in catechisms of the early church, teaching new followers how to do the sign of the cross was part of their class. According to Alan Kreider in his book, The Patient Ferment of the Church, “The sign of the cross was seen as a breastplate against the devil, and the church would instruct candidates how to make the sign on their forehead and eyes.” Join the early church and try making the sign of the cross as part of your prayer practice.
- The Prayer of Examen: The prayer of Examen was developed by Ignatius of Loyola in 1522. This prayer was practiced by followers of Jesus at the end of each day. It consisted of four movements that together developed a rhythm for interacting with God and learning to hear his voice:
- Presence: take some time and become aware of God’s presence with you. Remind yourself that God genuinely wants to meet with you.
- Gratitude: thank God for something that happened that day. Focus on these experiences and encounters, helping your mind and spirit center on the goodness and generosity of God.
- Review: Ask the Lord to see clearly the spiritual realities of the day. Over-packed lives can rob us of the opportunity to learn from the past, to see how yesterday might inform today. When or where in the past 24 hours were you cooperating most fully with God’s grace in your life? When were you resisting? What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day?
- Response: Having spent time remembering, it seems natural to want to respond in some way. You might need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express gratitude, or resolve to make changes and move forward. Allow your observations to guide your responses. Beginning today, how do you want to live your life differently? What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?
- The Jesus Prayer: This prayer is sometimes referred to as the “prayer of the heart.” It began with people simply reciting the name of Jesus and developed into praying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” People throughout the ages have repeated this prayer as a way to quiet themselves before God and hear from him.
Today, choose one of these practices and see if it helps you connect with God. Maybe try the other ones on subsequent days. So much of spiritual formation is seeing what works for you and the way you’re wired. Experiment and enjoy the journey!
By Ryan Paulson