The great philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once suggested that life is best understood looking backwards, but it must be lived forwards. A conundrum for sure, for how many of us would like to know how things will work out before we start instead of afterwards! Regardless, while we can’t know every last detail of our future, I think it is possible to get a glimpse of what God is doing in our lives now by looking backwards. Cultivating a prayer life that includes reflecting back on the past day can be a great way to notice the ways God was present in your day. By doing so, we can learn to recognize the movements of God in the present moment and over time recognize larger themes of what God's plan is for your life.
The following is a simple, step by step framework that you may find helpful to cultivate this kind of prayer in your life. If you decide to give it a go, give it some time to become more a part of your daily routine.
- Illumination - Jesus is the light of the world, the living word that is a lamp unto our feet. Since we aren’t day-dreaming but praying, we ask for Jesus to highlight those parts of our day that are significant and to help us understand why they are significant.
- Review the day in a posture of gratitude. This kind of prayer is not going through your heart and day with the devil and a fine-toothed comb. It is not combing looking for sin and failure. From a posture of gratitude and thanksgiving review your day, hour by hour and look for the gifts in the pleasant things and also in the challenges. Thank God for all these gifts.
- Be aware of your emotions. As you reflect over your day, pay attention to your emotions / feeling that arise. Our emotions can be clues as to where the “action” was in our day. Be aware of some of the more subtle emotions like boredom, contentment, desire but also anger in the form of sarcasm, bitterness and so forth. Good feelings or painful feelings, they both can be clues to areas we may need to explore a little more with God.
- A Place to Pray from. These emotions can be a good place to start praying from. Pleasant or painful, these situations caught your attention and often indicate something important was happening. Allow the emotions to surface and use those emotions to pray - praise, cry out for help, celebrate, ask for healing, insight or forgiveness.
- Look towards the immediate future. Consider those things; situations, appointments, tasks which await you tomorrow. Again, allow the emotions that surface around these specific events / situations to surface and use them to direct and fuel your prayer. Regret, anxiety, fear, anger, procrastination, weakness, excitement, hope, passion - these provide vibrant inspiration for prayer.
Many folks end this time of prayer by praying the Lords Prayer. I also like to encourage the folks I work with to add journaling - keeping short notes about meaningful situations and the feelings, and any consolation they may receive. I then encourage folks to review these journal entries on a weekly or monthly basis to look for the ways God has answered prayer, to get a bigger picture perspective of what God is doing in their lives. Typically people are genuinely encouraged!
The Spin Off Benefits
- You will never have a lack of things to pray about!
- A posture of gratitude has far reaching benefits. Practicing this posture daily will create an inner habit of thankfulness. This will rock your life!
- We learn to bring our true selves to the Lord in prayer instead of a manicured facade. It may seem a little uncomfortable to do this to begin with because we are conditioned to fear rejection by God for poor behavior. Imagine your pleasant surprise to discover a God is who passionately and steadfastly in love with you and 'for you' no matter what!
- We learn to listen for and respect our feelings. We are wired for emotion. Emotions, even strong ones like passion, desire and anger are “morally neutral”. This means they are neither morally good or bad. It is what we do with those emotions that counts. Paul encourages us not to sin in our anger but doesn’t tell us not to get angry (Eph. 4:26)
- Praying into our emotions can free us from the snare they can sometimes be. Sometimes strong emotions can dominate our thoughts and if we let them, manipulate our choices and actions.
- We can address those areas of sin (brokeness) in the confidence of Gods love without the issue becoming the focus.
- We can experience healing - experiencing God in our day to day life, in the trials and challenges can go a long way to experience healing. Gods love heals us from the inside out. In prayer we experience truth encounters which dispel the lies and fear that add fuel and are often the roots of the areas of brokeness in life. Light dispels darkness!
- We grow in a personal relationship with God. This kind of prayer cultivates a more intimate relationship with a personal God.
(adapted from an article written for America by Denis Hamm, SJ, May 1994)