Friday, August 10, 2007

Short Prayers

Centuries ago, Christians retreated into the hot, barren Egyptian desert to escape persecution. Later, in 311 A.D., when Christianity became a recognized religion, some chose to stay in the desert, embracing an austere life. They attempted through disciplines to remember God is near every moment of every day. In ministry to others and in private prayers, they devoted themselves to God and became known as the Desert Fathers.

Out of their tradition, arose “breath prayers.” They based their short prayers (could be said in one breath) on the pattern of Jesus Christ. Even on the cross, Jesus said a brief prayer, “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” When I’m in pain, my prayers are very short, too.

Also, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the succinct prayer included short phrases. The cited reasons these desert dwellers’ prayed repetitiously was to stay in constant contact with God. Also, they wanted to follow the apostle Paul’s urging to the Thessalonians, “pray continually.”

Out of their tradition arose short prayers, repeated in a breathe-in and breathe-out pattern, consequently the name breath prayers. By far, their favorite prayer was from a parable of Jesus when a repentant tax collector pled, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Eventually, some even shortened the plea, “Lord [breathe in] . . . mercy [breathe out].”

With my many flaws, I could certainly pray that prayer each day, and even each hour. Before I ever heard of the monks known as the Desert Fathers, I saw many short prayers in the Bible. I admit, I’m not a chanter, saying them repeatedly throughout a day. I also don’t breathe a certain way when praying. Usually the quick prayer that springs to mind and on to God bypasses earthly regulations.

I’ll share a favorite. One praise prayer that can be imitated comes from Eve, the mother of all living. Part of women’s fates after the fall was childbearing plus – plus pain. And after Eve delivered Cain, her first son, she said, “With the help of the LORD, I have brought forth a man.”

I like to imitate her praise and tell God thank you for help. Usually, my accomplishment is not as labor intensive as childbearing: “With the help of the Lord, I finished the income tax” or “With the help of the Lord, I told my hurting friend about Jesus.”

Praying short phrases from the Bible is not new, and many find this natural and satisfactory. This summer, a young mother told me that when rowdiness reigns in her home she repeats this Bible praise back to God, “Children ARE a blessing from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3).

When you next read your Bible, watch for short phrases that describe where you are in life, and say them back to God. They may be the gentle whispers that keep you in God’s presence that day.
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