an outlet of encouragement, explanation, and exhortation

Category: Prayer

A Prayer for Meeting God, by Rich Villodas

On Monday, Rich Villodas posted a prayer he wrote on Twitter/X. I found it encouraging and helpful. This is the text of the prayer:

Lord, I’m here. I’ve come to meet with you.
I’d rather be somewhere else. I’d rather be doing something different.
But here I am.
Only you can awaken my heart to desire you. I can’t make it happen. But you can.
So here I am.
I sit here with a divided mind. But I long for singularity of heart.
So here I am.

–Rich Villodas, February 12, 2024

I hope you find it as helpful as I did. So I’m passing it on.

Praying about the Violence in Palestine and Israel

I’ve been wondering how best to suggest we pray regarding the situation in Israel and Palestine. The topic is overloaded with politics and anger, which do not help. I want to avoid pouring any fuel on that fire!

Today I ran across a brief and helpful essay by Yohanna Katanacho, a Christian who teaches at Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary (yes, that Nazareth – the one Jesus grew up in!). Professor Katanacho, whose story of being born in Jerusalem and coming to follow Jesus is extraordinary, gives excellent biblically-based advice on how to pray in this essay. You can view his brief essay here. I highly, highly recommend it!

You can hear Professor Katanacho’s personal story briefly told in the October 15, 2023 replay of an interview with him on the Regent College Podcast.

If you’d like more introductory background on the the region of Israel and Palestine, its history, and how we might think of the conflicts in the area as Christians, I’d recommend recent episodes of the Regent College Podcast, particularly those released in October and November of 2023.

About “Breath Prayers”

Have you ever heard of breath prayers”? They have a long history. You may recall a series a couple of years ago in which I mentioned the “Jesus Prayer”.

Anyway, Sarah Bessey recently published some breath prayers with brief instruction on how to pray these very short prayers that I think many may find helpful. Check it out! It’s a practical way to keep oneself centered on the One that matters most.

Lectio 365 – An App Recommendation

A number of us at Long Beach Friends Church have been using the Lectio 365 app for a few months. We really appreciate how it leads us through a 10 minute prayer and scripture devotional each day. I found today that they have a promotional video on Youtube.

Check out the video and get it from the Google play store or the iPhone app store. (That is, it’s available on both Android and Apple phones and tablets.)

It’s free. No ads. God’s people did something very good for the wider church here!

Fleming Rutledge prayed on a podcast I heard yesterday…

Fleming Rutledge prayed on a podcast interview I heard yesterday. I decided to write it down. When asked by the host if she would pray to close the interview, she indicated she would be disappointed not to pray, and spontaneously poured out this prayer:

Oh Lord God, our creator, redeemer, sustainer,
Father, Son, Holy Spirit,
Hear us when we feebly call upon you out of our manifold sins and weaknesses, ignorances, failures, cowardice, bewilderment. Lord we turn to you and call upon you because we know that is what you want from us. You love nothing more than to hear the confession of confused, troubled, insecure, worn-down people who desire to be your servants. Because you have called us to be your servants, dear Lord, we know that you will give us the strength to do what you have purposed for us to do. Just, please, Lord, please keep us faithful to that calling.

Heavenly Father, look with mercy and grace upon your church. woven in a hundred different directions, filled with sin, disgraced by scandal – not just the Catholics but the Protestants also – and all churches, we all have our besetting difficulties and violations of your commandments, neglect of the gospel – Lord, look mercifully upon your church, which you have called to yourself, and which in spite of our utter inability you have strengthened, which you have undergirded and overarched with your Spirit. We pray for the churches, that we might capture, by your grace, a new wind of the spirit – a great awakening to the truth of your gospel and the difference between that and all the other messages we are hearing from so many different directions.

Lord, I pray for a greatly increased love of your holy word in scripture and in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Guide us in ways that we can make this known – new ways, fresh ways. Sometimes it seems as if the old ways that we’ve been so accustomed to have fallen into disrepair, decline. We need an invigorating breath of the Holy Spirit, dear Lord, for your church – all your churches – and for the great church which exists in your future. Let us look to that with confidence, with faith – faith that only you can give.

We pray for all those young people who are drawn to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ – that you would strengthen them in the midst of this hostile culture – that you would give them courage and joy that is very different from the joy that the world foolishly promises. Let us seek our being – our past, our present, and our future – in you, dear Lord, and in your son Jesus Christ, in whose name, alone, is salvation, power, mercy, and everlasting love. In His name we pray, Amen.

I was listening to Crackers and Grape Juice, episode 244, in which Fleming Rutledge was interviewed about the 20th anniversary edition of her book Help My Unbelief.

Using a form of Lectio Divina for personal meditation

This is a very brief “cheat sheet” on using lectio divina in times of personal solitude with God.

Be alone. Prepare your heart and mind. Then:

  1. Read – Out loud? Repeat.
  2. Reflect – Think it over. What stands out?
  3. Respond – Speak to God.
  4. Receive – Let go and listen.

Jesus often withdrew to be alone and pray. I find that in praying it is easy to speak but difficult to listen. Using lectio divina as a way to structure prayer time with scripture is helpful in getting started with personal times of solitude and silence in prayer that help to preserve our attachment as branches to the vine.

More details for each step are below.

Find a relatively quiet place where you can be alone and undisturbed. Make yourself comfortable, but not so comfortable that avoiding sleep is difficult. (If you fall asleep, don’t fret. Just resume where you left off.) Pick a passage of scripture that you will read, like Psalm 1. Or you could choose a parable or a natural section of the narrative in the books of Moses. Clear your thoughts. Some people find it helpful to focus on one special word, like “Jesus”. Others focus on their own breathing. The idea is to empty oneself of thoughts and concerns in order to be filled with the presence of Jesus. Ask Jesus for his presence.

Read the passage to yourself at least three times. Or listen to the passage on an audio device.

Reflect on what you read, asking God to draw your attention to the one word or phrase or idea from the passage that he wants you to focus on. What word or phrase stood out to you? Let this come easily, like air bubbling up to the top of a glass. Remember this word or phrase.

Ask God about that word or phrase. Or tell him what you are thinking about it. Bring to God whatever is on your mind or heart.

Stop praying your own words or thoughts to God in order to listen and receive. Focus for a moment on the word you chose earlier. Then, let go and listen in silence. If your mind wanders, focus on that word or phrase again. Make note of what comes to you. You may receive a clear impression of what God wants to say to you, or simply a peaceful resting time with God, or an emotion. Be open to whatever God brings to you. Close by expressing the idea to God: “Let it be with me just as you say.” If there is something specific that you believe you should do in response, be sure and follow up.

It is possible to work through these steps in just minutes. Longer, less hurried time is beneficial. Some find spending even an hour or more in preparation is very helpful. Centering prayer is a possible approach to this kind of preparation.

My purpose? To help people pay attention to God and respond appropriately.

Other Resources
For a longer time or restreat, check out an approach to personal spiritual retreat.
Check check this article  on using lectio divina in groups.
Check this site for some additional resources for centering prayer and lectio divina.

Miracle or Sign?

Paraphrasing a question from Susan Ramos:

In Luke 23:8, Herod is hoping Jesus will do something impressive so he can see it. Sometimes this is translated that he wanted Jesus to do a “sign” and other times that he wanted Jesus to do a “miracle”. You said that many recent translations are using the word “sign”. Could you explain please?

In the Bible, the Greek word sÄ“meíon is usually translated these days as sign or wonder. Jesus was doing signs that pointed to the his identity as God. Herod wanted to see something spectacular – what we would call a miracle, even though Luke is careful to use the word “sign”. I’m not a Greek scholar and should let others handle explaining translation issues, but the reason I pointed this out was that I heard one translation in our reading use the “miracle” language and others use “sign”.

There are some significant ideas tied up in the choice of translation. In modern times, say, since the scientific revolution, nature has often been conceived as a big machine with regular workings. Atoms and molecules interact, chemical reactions take place, physical bodies move, and these workings take a regular order that can be described and predicted (if one knows enough). So, for example, it was predicted in advance that the today sun would shine directly on the equator of the earth (vernal equinox) and that there would be a solar eclipse visible over parts of northern Europe. There wasn’t anything miraculous about it even though a solar eclipse is very rare.

The concept of miracle came to be that sometimes God reaches into this big natural machine and does things which are not explained by the workings of nature and that cannot be predicted from natural knowledge no matter how much one knows. In this context, a miracle has no natural explanation. God has interrupted the regular working of nature and inserted a cause of events from outside of nature: God Himself. That is a technical definition of “miracle”. Sometimes people mean this when they say “miracle” today and sometimes they mean something less precise.

This division of things into “natural” and “miraculous” can be misleading from a biblical standpoint. In biblical teaching, God is responsible for creating and maintaining (upholding) the regular working of nature. For example, see Colossians 1:17. From a Christian perspective, it is because God is a powerful, intelligent, orderly god that nature has its order and can be studied and its working understood and even predicted. Nature and its regular working is an act of God. Every day; every moment. If God chooses to act in a way that is not his regular pattern then this would be what we might call a “miracle”, but it would not be any more or less that God was responsible for it than he is responsible for the regular working of the world.

OK, so what makes something a sign? It means something in God’s revelation of himself to us. For example, God could do what we would call a “miracle” down deep in the depths of the earth – say moving a rock that he intends to have some effect far in the future. It wouldn’t be a sign for us because we don’t know anything about it. God could cause the events of nature to coincide so that the eclipse today took place just as a Christian saint was passing away and by his Spirit speak to those attending the death of the saint and it be a sign for them. Nothing miraculous took place, in the sense that the working of nature was not interrupted and the eclipse took place exactly and for the physical reasons that humans understand, but the timing of events could make it a sign for those who trust God and hear from his Spirit.

For another example, what if God caused a strong wind to blow and divide the sea so that Israel could escape from Egyptian chariots? What if the wind could be explained by the weather patterns of the day and a low pressure system in the right place at the right time with the force of the resulting wind so strong that it made a dry passage appear in a way that has a natural explanation? Does that make it any less a sign that God has acted to save Israel? I think not. But we don’t know the explanation for the wind except to say that it was from God. And we thank God for it.

Finally, some might use the word “miracle” in a different way to mean that something unexpected happened. They might say that God’s timing of a naturally-explained wind or eclipse was a miracle. I get what they mean. It might not be a miracle in this technical sense, but I get what they mean. God did something that impressed then and that was perhaps even a sign for them.

When God provides for you, you may decide to call it a miracle if you want to. We know where the credit goes, don’t we? Whether there is a natural explanation or something happened that interrupted the natural flow of cause and effect, God gets the credit for blessing us. It comes as a sign of his goodness. Many people use the word “miracle” in this way. However, it is good to understand the more technical usage and why modern Bible translations use the word “sign” when that is more appropriate. God is behind natural events and miracles. There is nothing without the great “I am”.

Follow up… Is it a miracle when God answers prayer? I would say it is not necessarily a miracle in the technical sense. I believe God is outside of time as humans experience it and can see all of time at once in his perspective. If that is true, then God could hear your prayer today and act at the creation of the world to bring about the answer to your prayer through natural events with no need for any miracle; because God is outside of time and Lord over it. At least that’s what I think – that God can see all times at once in His knowledge of everything, also known as omniscience.

Personal Spiritual Retreat

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
-John 7:37-38, NIV


My comments below are often based on what I heard on audio from a lecture by Annette Fergusson given at Regent College as a part of the Christian Thought and Culture I class. The lecture, entitled The Contemporary Christian and Spirituality, was a guide for students who were encouraged to make a one-day retreat. I am indebted to her for her simple clarity and helpful concrete suggestions. The practice she recommends has helped to fill me again and again with peace and life from the never-lacking source that is Jesus our Lord.

Introduction – What is is?

The practice of Christian retreat has a long history in the Church. It is a decision to make space in one’s life, setting aside everyday activities to seek the Lord in prayer. We follow the example of Jesus, who set aside times of retreat from the press of his ministry and other human beings. Consider Mark 1:32-39, Psalm 62:5-8, Luke 5:16, and Luke 6:12-13. Each of us comes to a retreat with differing needs. Your experience will not precisely mirror mine, or be the same each time.

“Spiritual disciplines aren’t just enforced time with God, they’re rewiring the circuitry of our brains, forming and shaping disciples.”
– Rob Moll, We Are Family, Books & Culture, Nov/Dec 2011

I recommend from 3 to 4 hours up to one day done in such a way as to avoid the need for overnight preparation. Keep it simple and easy. Don’t worry about food; fast for the duration of the retreat. (Perhaps take some water along.) I have nothing against more extended times of retreat. However, such times will require more calendar arranging and preparation. The practice I am recommending is intended to be simple and repeatable monthly or more often. Time with God is vital (John 15:1-8) if we are to bear much fruit.

Why a Retreat?

In our busy society, we face pressures at many levels. Setting aside a time for individual communion with God is a necessity. It is how we are designed to live. As we take time for intentional prayer and meditation alone, we come to see ourselves in the light of the Holy Spirit. With an attitude of openness to what the Spirit may do in us, we allow God to change us. He forgives, redeems, and encourages. He transforms us as we are drawn into a deeper relationship with him.

Getting Started

We come to God bringing everything we are and everything we are experiencing. We meet him heart, soul, mind, and body using all of our senses.

  1. Find a place where to be alone. I prefer natural settings outdoors. You will discover what works best for you. Experiment as necessary with location. Below is a list of some local places that I like. Others may choose a quiet room or indoor setting free from distraction and association with everyday life: a room in a church building or a friend’s home might do well. I find it helpful to walk a few miles (an hour or so) before settling down for the actual retreat. I process thoughts and clear my mind. There is something settling about walking quietly.
  2. Choose to be alone for your retreat. Solitude is a learned spiritual practice.
  3. Turn off your phone and other means of being contacted.
  4. Keep a notepad or journal available. Write down distractions, things you forgot that need doing, observations, thoughts you want to remember, whatever seems helpful. It can be helpful to write out prayer or reflections. Others use a notepad as a place to store things that will steal your attention from the retreat when they come to mind, attempting to draw you back to your everyday activity.
  5. You may find it helpful to use something to focus your attention on your purpose to spend time with God. I usually keep a Bible in sight. Others use a cross. Find a way to keep yourself focused.
  6. Fill your time during the retreat with thanksgiving. Begin with prayer. Ask for grace anticipating in a prayer of trust what God is going to do with your time together. Ask for his blessing and protection on this time. Express your desire to know him and his ways and purposes more deeply and clearly. Make yourself available to him. Think Romans 12:1-2.
  7. Start with a time of quiet worship. The form of your worship will vary from person to person and time to time. The idea of worship is to speak out verbally or mentally your praise to God, to dwell on his glory and express your recognition of who He is. Honor his name. The following scripture passages are good sources of worship thoughts and words: Psalms 9, 18, 19, 23, 24, 29, 30-34, 65, 66, 89, 92, 100, 103-105, 107, 111, 113, 117, 118, 134-136, 145-150, 2 Samuel 22

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina (divine reading) is a way of reading scripture that promotes communion with God and internalizing the teaching of scripture. There are other forms of Bible study for other occasions; this form is good for retreat.

  • Reading: Choose a passage from Scripture that you will meditate on. I find it helpful to choose in advance of the retreat, but allow God to guide you. (Below are some possible passages if you would find this helpful.) Keep in mind that it is content rather than volume that matters. Read slowly, allowing the words of the text to speak to you. Pay attention to the Spirit as you read. When a word or phrase captures your attention, stop and reread it. Write it down if that helps.
  • Meditation: Enter into the Scripture you have read so that you become a participant rather than an observer. Allow the scripture to speak into your own life.
  • Prayer: Consider your feelings and thoughts as you have read and meditated and express them in prayer to God. Be honest with him and tell him what you are thinking, even if you are in doubt or do not understand or have feelings that you find uncomfortable. (He knows, anyway.) There is benefit in just opening up your heart to God to share thoughts, feelings, and even fears. (Like the Psalmists…) When you have emptied yourself of these things, it may be time to move on to contemplation.
  • Contemplation: Sit quietly and enjoy the presence of the Lord. Do not rush this time. Practice his presence; He is with you, so focus your awareness on Him. Seek intimacy with God. Listen. Enjoy your surroundings without losing focus on God and the passage and your thoughts. What God has made declares his glory.

After the time in scripture, it may suit God’s purposes for this time to study or read something else, or prepare a lesson, or write. I sometimes find this time profitable for planning future teaching, preaching, writing, or for other activities requiring thoughtful preparation. But these fruits are the bonuses of retreat, not a “goal” for the retreat. Accept what God offers, whether it is quiet enjoyment, insights, ideas, conviction, or whatever.

Prayer of Thanksgiving.

Close with a prayer in which you thank God for whatever he has brought to this time. The reality of God’s presence empowers us to re-enter everyday life to overflow with the life He gives us. This extended time of retreat can prepare the way for shorter times of daily devotion that incorporate pieces of what we experience in retreat. We are anchored by the time we spend with Him.

A Prayer Partner or Coach

I suggest that you work with a prayer partner or coach before and after your personal spiritual retreat. It will help you to stay focused and accountable. Your prayer partner or coach can encourage you and help you process the things God reveals when you are with him. Share what God is doing in your life, and where he is leading. Pray together for the retreat and an aftermath of overflowing life.

Scripture for Lectio Divina

Here are some possible scriptures to get started in the Lectio Divina portion of retreat. Some of these passages may be too long for one study time. Choose a short enough section of scripture that you can get your mind around it at one time. It may be helpful to do some contextual study and word study to prepare in advance for Lectio Divina. The richer your knowledge of the content of the scripture, the more God can speak to you through it.

  • Genesis 1, 2, 3, 15
  • Isaiah 6, 11 and others
  • Sections of Ezekiel
  • Psalm 139
  • 2 Corinthians 2:14 to 6:2. Chapter 3 is a favorite of mine.
  • Ephesians 2, 3, 4:1 to 5:20
  • Galatians 3:1 to 4:7
  • Galatians 5 and 6
  • Hebrews 10 and 12
  • Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer)
  • parables often make a good study
  • Revelation 21 and 22

Places for Personal Spiritual Retreat

I try to pick easily accessible outdoor locations that do not require a long drive. So I will focus on that sort of place in and near Long Beach. Here are a few possibilities. Experiment and find spots that work for you. Suggestions are welcome.

  • South Coast Botanic Gardens is probably my favorite. There is an admission charge of $7 or $30/year. There are some remote sites in the gardens where you will rarely be disturbed.
  • El Dorado Nature Center is a good location, but all trails can be busy with walkers. I see others doing retreat-like things here. There is a charge for driving into the parking area, but no admission fee.
  • Hopkins Wilderness Park often has some places where you can be alone.
  • Hilltop Park in Signal Hill is a good place to pray over the city. It is somewhat busy for retreat purposes.
  • Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos have nice garden areas.
  • There are several city parks where you can find a shady, secluded picnic table at which to sit. Here are a few that have worked: Stearns Park, El Dorado Park, Heartwell Park
  • Deane Dana Friendship Park in San Pedro has become one of my favorite places for the walking portion of retreat. There is only one large set of picnic tables at the edge of the park at which to sit after walking. Shade is practically non-existent; so this is a park I use in the winter only. It is possible to walk from the southwest corner of the park all the way down to the ocean through Shoreline Park and then to the trails along the Trump National Golf Club and Dog Beach in Palos Verdes, which is another good winter retreat spot. There is also parking for this public area at the golf club.

You can download a copy of this post as a document here.

You can also download the slides from a sermon on spiritual retreat I gave on June 10, 2012. A PDF of the sermon slides is at here. The sermon audio is available here as an MP3 and the Powerpoint slides here.

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a way of reading scripture that allows contemplation, listening to the Holy Spirit, and even communion with God in order to more deeply appreciate and integrate scripture into one’s thinking and being. One may receive peace, guidance, joy, or insight from this practice. We have found it quite beneficial in small group settings, particularly when seeking faithfulness as a group to scriptures to which God has guided us.

In our experience, we may spend some time brainstorming scriptures on a certain topic or area of interest to the group. We read together and consider which passages seem most significant, or from which God seems to be speaking to us. Then, we arrange to spend time in Lectio Divina around those scriptures. God has spoken to us in powerful ways as we approach scripture in this way.

Here is how we have been practicing Lectio Divina

  1. Cultivate internal quietness through silence. Prepare to hear the “still small voice” of God (see 1 Kings 19:12). Sit with eyes closed and let your body relax. Allow yourself to become consciously aware of God’s presence with you. Start by expressing your willingness to hear from God in these moments by using a centering prayer such as “Come Lord Jesus,” “Here I am,” or “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
  2. Read the passage aloud twice, listening for a word or phrase that is God’s word for this day.
    a. In silence, repeat and consider the word or phrase in your mind.
    b. Share the word or phrase with the group.
  3. Read the passage aloud again (someone of the opposite sex from the first reader). This time the purpose is to hear or see Christ in the text.
    a. In silence, consider how the word or phrase touches your life. How is Christ touching you through the word or phrase?
    b. Share what you have heard or seen with the group.
  4. Read the passage again, this time for the purpose of experiencing Christ’s call to do something or change in some way.
    a. In silence consider how Christ is calling you to action or change.
    b. Share what you have heard from Christ.
  5. End by each person praying for one person in the group (e.g., the one on their right) based on what was shared by that person and as led by the Spirit.