Last Saturday I paid my first visit to the gym in close to a year which confirmed what I already knew; I am unfit! I recall days when I could run on the treadmill or cycle on the exercise bike for long periods of time at a high tempo but alas, no more. Why did it feel so hard? How come I tired after a few minutes instead of over an hour? The answer of course is that I am out of practise and there is only one way to put that right which is to practise more often.
In a sense prayer can be like that, can’t it? We know that we need to practise it but when we do come to prayer we quickly become aware of our lack of spiritual fitness because our mind wanders very easily and we get distracted. Many traditional methods of prayer are designed to help us with this by use of repetition. We have considered the Jesus Prayer over the past couple of weeks and, according to Gerard Hughes, prayer, of this sort, is designed to still the mind. Hughes notes that many traditional prayers, such as the Jesus Prayer, started out as pilgrim prayers and the repetition of the words were carried out in step, or rhythm, with the walk. Effort would be made to concentrate on breathing and walking in time with the repetition of the words e.g.’ the Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer, would be recited with ‘each syllable being repeated in time with our step, if we are walking, or with our breath if physically still.’
It strikes me now that this would be a useful exercise in two respects. Firstly, we are walking which is physical exercise and secondly, the repetition is a spiritual exercise of stilling the mind. People often talk about power walking these days, to get themselves physically fit. Well, how about power walking and power praying, which would kill two birds with one stone. More importantly though the point is made that prayer needs practise. As 1 Timothy reminds us, for physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1Timothy 4:8)
So let’s get fit; in our bodies, yes, but also in our prayer life, in pursuit of godliness. May I suggest that, if we can, try the two together i.e. walking and talking with God. However, if you are unable to walk then at least do the talk.
The Jesus Prayer:-
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. (Luke 18:38)
We are familiar with this prayer now but sometime the words, a sinner, can be added to read:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner
(Source unknown, Eastern Orthodox ‘Jesus Prayer’)
Caution: do not include the ‘a sinner’ every time as it can have an undesired effect of overly focussing on one’s sinfulness which is spiritually unbalanced and unhealthy. I tend to through it in every now and again.
Father, my Father:-
Father, my Father!
Send the Spirit of your Son into my heart. (Galatians 4:6)
God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and at my departing. (Source unknown, found in Pyson’s Horae, 1514)
The Lord’s Prayer or our Father: – see Matthew 6:9-13
There are many prayer books from various traditions which hold a great multitude of prayers from down through the ages which can be very helpful in stilling the heart, e.g.
O Lamb of God, That taketh away the sins of the world.
Grant us thy peace. (Church of England Book of Common Prayer)
 Gerard Hughes, in The SPCK Book of Christian Prayer, (London: SPCK, 1995), xviii