Maybe people that we work with in spiritual direction/mentoring find it hard to be still with Jesus. When they get alone and quiet themselves for prayer they have trouble settling down. Their bodies are antsy. Their minds are restless and wander from one thought to another. Many distractions seize hold of their attention, sidetracking them from connecting meaningfully with Jesus.
I can relate! People are often surprised to hear this. I have always been an active, energetic, productive person. And that’s putting it mildly! For years I was a workaholic, thriving on adrenaline and plagued with feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. (You can read my story of recovery: Hurry Up and Be Still!)
Learning to be quiet, still, unhurried, and focused on Christ in my midst hasn’t come easy for me. I’ve had to discipline myself to slooooow down and appreciate God’s Word to me. I’ve had learn to heed the advice of the writer to Hebrews: “Be careful!… Make every effort to enter God’s rest” (Hebrews 4:1, 11).
To Abide in Prayer is to Be Still with Jesus
Jesus said, “Abide in me and you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5, paraphrase). But what does it mean to abide in Christ? To abide is to remain. It’s to stay connected like the branch to the vine. We remain connected to Christ in trust, dependence, and worship — in our thoughts as much as possible and in the deep attitude of our heart, most of which is unconscious to us at any given time.
Using short phrases from Scripture is a way to practice our abiding in prayer. It’s a way into contemplative prayer in which we seek to be still with Jesus and grow in his peace and power. Marinating in some beloved words of the Bible helps us to grow deeper in our understanding of God and his life that he invites us into. It helps us to center ourselves in Christ, the Word of God made flesh.
As Jesus taught, we want to be like the grapevine branch that yields clusters of juicy grapes! The way to bear fruit, Jesus says, is to “abide” in, or remain interconnected with him and his words. Jesus is our Vine, the Father is our Gardener, and the Holy Spirit is the life of Christ flowing into us and through us to others so that we bear fruit for his kingdom (John 15:1-7).
We all want to bear good fruit in our lives, to make a positive difference by loving and helping other people. But Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We can’t bear fruit for God’s glory just by trying hard! But neither can we bear fruit by doing nothing! Jesus could have also said, “If you do nothing it will be apart from me.” That’s the same thing as Jesus saying, “Abide in me.”
To Abide in Prayer is a way to work at resting in God’s grace. We start by praying Scripture in intensive “quiet times.” And this helps us to learn to interact with and rely on Christ with us (abiding) as we do whatever we’re doing.
While driving my car or listening to a friend or writing this article now I remind myself to appreciate God’s goodness, submit to his will, listen to the Spirit, and share the love of Christ.
You can appreciate Christ with you teaching and loving you right now as you read these words… Just shoot up a little “arrow prayer” with me:
Father, I long to live in communion with you… Jesus, teach me to pray… Holy Spirit I rely on you now…
Being in tune with Christ and walking with him as we do whatever we’re doing is what gives us the capacity to bless others naturally, joyfully, and for God’s glory (not our own).
Pray Scripture Deeply
“Abiding Prayers” are simple, and yet profound, Bible-based prayers that help us to trust and follow Christ as his disciples.
When we Abide in Prayer we pray Scripture deeply from our hearts by focusing on the words in quiet prayer, slowly repeating them to yourself over and over. As you turn God’s Word over in your mind you “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). With the Psalmist you open your heart to the Lord and you open yourself to hear his invitation: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
When you go into quiet, meditative prayer to still your body and calm your mind with God’s Word you will experience inevitable antsiness and distractions — don’t get troubled by this! The reason to set aside time to Abide in Prayer is to practice re-centering your focus to the Bible phrase you’re meditating on and applying to your life.
By prayerfully reflecting upon and re-centering yourself on a short, beloved phrase of Scripture you can tune out the worries and distractions and tune into God’s peace. Then you can pray for the inspired words of God to seep down from your mind into your heart (which is your will) so that you are formed more into the image of Christ.
In Abiding Prayer we’re doing “soul work” to submit our will more fully to God’s will and to follow Christ wholeheartedly in daily life.
Join the Selah of the Psalmist
Something like Abiding Prayer goes back to the forming of the Hebrew Psalter, a thousand years before Christ. In the Psalms we often see short prayers repeated over and over like “His love endures forever” or “Lord, have mercy.”
Also, 71 times in the Psalms — often in the middle of a sentence! — we find the word, “Selah.” This word was inserted into the Psalms by the prayer masters who taught the people of Israel to pray the Psalms of David. “Selah” probably means something like, “Pause to reflect and pray.”
Selah… Right in the middle of the Psalm — as it was being read or sung — a sacred space was made to be still and quiet before the Lord, to abide in God’s presence.
Use Your Imagination
Many people find it helpful to imagine a Scripture as they’re praying. Imbedded in our language are symbols and metaphors. The Bible is full of wonderful pictorial images and illustrations. Imaging the Scripture you’re praying helps you to keep your mind focused and appreciative of God’s wisdom and grace. When your mind wanders you can use the Biblical image to help re-focus your mind on your prayer and take God’s Word deeper into your heart and soul.
For instance in meditating on Psalm 23 it’s easy to visualize the scenes. I visualize the Lord as my Shepherd and myself as his sheep and I follow along with the the imagery imbedded in this wonderful Psalm. I pray, “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want” and I picture Jesus as my Shepherd and myself as his sheep… I’m happy to be near him in his green pasture… I drink from his still waters… I follow him on his path… (For an example of how to meditate on the imagery in the Shepherd Psalm see my popular article, “Psalm 23 Pictures to Pray.”)
Praying God’s Word to abide in Christ in this way gives us peace and power to love others effectively.
Practice God’s Presence
Try practicing Abiding Prayer in silence and solitude for five minutes or so at the beginning of your day to settle yourself in God’s presence. It’s best to do this in a quiet corner of your home or in a beautiful nature setting, but you can even learn to do this while you’re getting ready in the morning, driving your car, or waiting somewhere. By immersing our consciousness in Christ and submitting to his kingdom we come to rejoice in the Lord and find that his peace as a guards our mind and heart (Philippians 4:4-7). We are then in position to love others as Christ has first loved us (1 John 4:16,19).
When the word of God (words of Scripture that remind you of Jesus’ gospel that the kingdom of the heavens is open to you right where you are) dwells in you richly and deeply then you can carry it with you all day (Colossians 3:16-17). During the day briefly come back to your Abiding Prayer as often as you can remember. In the midst of whatever you’re doing just shoot up a little “arrow prayer.” (That’s what Ray Ortlund called it when he discipled me.) In this way you can learn little-by-little to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and to “practice the presence of God.”
Learning to do whatever we’re doing with an appreciation of Christ loving us, guiding us, and empowering us is the secret to a fruitful life. Prayer must come before and encompass service. In other words, we must live with Christ in order to live for him.
Abide in Prayer for Others
When we intercede in prayer for others we normally describe their needs and make specific petitions to God on their behalf, often going into great detail. Of course, this is a good way to pray.
Another way to intercede for someone is to use a verse or phrase of Scripture to abide in prayer for them. Praying Scripture for others helps us to form effective prayers and to stay focused. And it’s a delightful, peaceful, and powerful way of participating in intercessory prayer. Using the words of Scripture to help us interceded reminds us that prayer is always initiated by God; when we pray we are joining in with the prayers of Christ at the right hand of God and the prayers of the Holy Spirit from deep within us.
To abide in prayer for someone else is to hold him or her in God’s presence with you, praying for him or her to be as the branch abiding in the Christ-vine, tended by our loving Father, and bearing fruit by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s Abide Now!
There are hundreds of Abiding Prayers that I’ve used to get settled and centered in Christ. They are all simple, compelling phrases (or paraphrases) from the Psalms and other places in the Bible.
Many people that consult with me in therapy, spiritual direction, seminars, and retreats have found that Abiding Prayers help them to rest in Abba’s love and to do the soul work that is needed for them to be formed more into the image of Christ.
Let’s try a few Abiding Prayers now! (You may want to print this article out and go to a quiet place so you can be undistracted and give at least a few minutes to praying.)
You might practice warming up yourself for prayer by focusing on your bodily posture before God. It greatly helps to engage your mind and heart on God when you’re intentional about putting your body into your prayer.
Sit comfortably… Relax…
You may want to let your rhythm of breathing in and out become a prayer…
You may want to hold out your hands to open yourself to the Lord…
Breathe in God’s Peace
Hear the word of God to the Psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
You probably know this prayer. But did you know that it’s context in Psalm 46 is war and devastation? That’s the real test of our peace — can we rest in God’s care in the midst of distress and pain?
Let’s so some soul work and practice being still in Christ’s presence now. Consider something that scares you or makes you anxious… Name this to the Lord… Picture yourself in that situation…
Then sloooowly pray God’s Word to yourself as a “Simplifying Breath Prayer”:
Be still and know that I am God…
Be still and know that I AM…
Be still and know…
Focus on Jesus
Here’s another favorite Abiding Prayer of mine: “Jesus, be the center.”
This little prayer of the heart is based on Matthew 17:6-8 (MSG), “The disciples saw Jesus, only Jesus,” and Matthew 21:9 (NLT), “Jesus was in the center.” It’s a simple little prayer that says it all! You might try gently repeating this prayer to yourself now: “Jesus, be the center…”
It’s helpful to use an Abiding Prayer to do some soul work in which we open ourselves to God in order to be formed more into the image of Christ. “Watch and pray,” Jesus taught us. We’re seeking for Jesus to be our focus and our desire in the activities of the day ahead. Consider your schedule and pray: “As I _________, Jesus, be the center.”
Submit to God
Jesus prayed on the cross: “Father… into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5 & Luke 23:46). This is another powerful, little prayer for our spiritual formation.
Try offering this prayer to submit the parts of yourself and your life to God: “Father… into your hands I commit my ________…” (e.g., thoughts… desires… health… relationships… dreams).
Remember we can also abide in prayer for others. Intercede for people the Lord brings to your mind: “Father… into your hands I commit __(name)__”
More Soul Shepherding
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But some Scriptures seem to be especially anointed to minister God’s grace to us! Read Breath Prayers from the Bible for more some favorite Scripture based Abiding Prayers.