How to Pray (Part 3)

Continuing on with Jean-Nicholas Grou - (1730-1803)  Devotional Classics by Richard Foster:

From the Heart

If this is true, why do we pray so much with our lips and so little with our heart? Why in meditation do we work so hard in the search for considerations and use our wills so little to move them to acts of affections? Why do we not lay open our heart to God and beg him to put into it whatever is most pleasing to him? Who could call it a bad method if it springs from humility, from a deep sense of our own inability and from a lively faith and trust in God? Such a method suggested by the Holy Spirit to those souls who ask him to teach them how to pray. "But my heart says nothing to me when I am in the presence of God," you say. "In the silence I find nothing but emptiness, dryness, distractions. If I try to fix my mind, to arouse in myself some feelings of devotions, to drive off distracting thoughts, it is absolutely essential for me to use a prayer book." Our heart says nothing??! In so far as it is silent, you are not praying at all, but is it any less so when your mouth is uttering words? Do you not see that these feelings you borrow from books only affect your imagination? They are not your words, but someone else's, and they become yours only for the moment that you are reading them; once the book is closed, you are as dry and as cold as you were before. Nevertheless, you say, "I was praying while I was reciting or reading that set of words." So you think and you are satisfied, but is that God's point of view? Is God equally satisfied? What do your words matter to him, to him who only listens to the heart?

The Voice of the Heart  

You ask me what this voice of the heart is. It is love which is the voice of the heart. Love God and you will always be speaking to him. The seed of love is growth in prayer. If you do not understand that, you have never yet either loved or prayed. Ask God to open your heart and kindle in it a spark of his love, and then you will begin to understand what praying means. If it is the heart that prays, it is evident that sometimes, and even continuously, it can pray by itself without any help from words, spoken or conceived. Here is something which few people understand and which some even entirely deny. They insist that there must be definite and formal acts. They are mistaken, and God has not yet taught them how the heart prays. It is true that thoughts are formed in the mind before they are clothed in words. The proof of this is that we often search for the right word and reject one after another until we find the right one which expresses our thoughts accurately. We need words to make ourselves intelligible to other people but not to the Spirit. It is the same with the feelings of the heart. The heart conceives feelings and adopts them without any need of resorting to words unless it wishes to communicate them to others or to make them clear to itself. For God reads the secrets of the heart. God reads its most intimate feelings, even those which we are not aware of. And if these are feelings about God, how could he fail to see them, since it is God who plants them in us by his grace and helps our will to adopt them? It is not necessary to make use of formal acts to make ourselves heard by God. If we do make use of them in prayer, it is not so much for God's sake as our own in that they help us to keep our attention fixed in his presence. Our weakness often calls for the help of such acts, but they are not of the essence of prayer.

Suggested Question to ponder in you heart or use with a discussion with others: Sometimes, Grou notes, we work hard in our times of prayer, straining to obtain a spiritual feeling or an extraordinary spiritual experience. According to Grou, what is wrong with this approach?

Suggested Exercise to challenge your prayer life: Make your prayer less wordy this week. Keep in mind the point made by Grou that God hears the heart and not the words.

From Marilyn

It has been a difficult season to pray as I mentioned before, especially in the recent political world, but with the results in and the changes forthcoming, how important will it be
for each of us to; "Why do we not lay open our heart to God and beg him to put into it whatever is most pleasing to him? Who could call it a bad method if it springs from humility, from a deep sense of our own inability and from a lively faith and trust in God?" Amen, right? Prayer is such a personal thing to folks, there are formulas and methods for certain, but when we put too much emphasis on the procedures, we lose this concept of laying our heart open and allow God to put into it what pleases Him! You know, even in the silence, emptiness and distractions, it is
in that place that the Lord speaks to the heart. It is a discipline of the faith to continuously lay your heart open before Him. Scripture is one of the best places for retreat when I am feeling a sense of that "dryness or distractions." This prayer series has sparked a lot of conversations, at least with replies back to me, concerning these excerpts from HOW TO PRAY. Next week, the
conclusion of this segment. I hope you are willing to at least examine your thoughts on prayer..."For God reads the secrets of the heart."