One of my favorite devotional resources is a book entitled Devotional Classics edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith. The book is a collection of excerpted works from spiritual leaders throughout church history from different faith traditions. One of my favorite devotionals in the book is written by Evelyn Underhill called What Do We Mean by Prayer. Evelyn was an academic in the early 20th century who practiced and wrote extensively about the devotional life.
In What Do We Mean by Prayer, Evelyn shares her thoughts and practices as they relate to her prayer life. In her writing, she discusses the process of moving from inaction to action in our prayer life. She suggests that prayer is a three-part process.
Now, when we do anything consciously, the transition from inaction to action unfolds itself in a certain order. First, we form a concept of that which we shall do; the idea looms up in our minds. Second we feel that we want to do it, or must do it. Third, we determine that we will do it.
In other words, we think, we feel, then we act. In Evelyn’s words, however, “…the generalization must not be pushed too hard, but it is broadly true.” Like all generalizations, when pushed too far they break down.
There is much we can say about the nature of prayer. Sometimes it can be difficult for us. We don’t always know what to say or how to say it. We might not feel comfortable praying with or in front of others. Occasionally circumstances in our lives might keep us from praying as we should. We may hurry through prayer when we should be slow, patient, and deliberate. We may also wonder if God hears our pleas. Prayer can be a challenge. Evelyn can help us when prayer doesn’t come easily to us.
Evelyn Underhill set out to help us understand how to deepen our prayer life. Her three-part process is meant to help us see how to move from an inactive prayer life to an active and flourishing prayer life. The following exercise can help you move toward an active prayer life.
One of the great things about the Devotional Classics book is that after every section, the authors give some exercises to help incorporate the devotional into your spiritual practices. Here is one of the exercises that they recommend that should help you if you are struggling to pray. It is important to understand that this not a magic formula for an awesome prayer life. It is simply a tool to help when prayer might not come easily to you.
Use Evelyn Undehill’s three-part movement of prayer this week. Begin in the mind, making space for God by reflecting on spirtitual truths; move to the emotions by concentrating on your desire for God; hold yourslef in his presence by a deliberate act of your will.
I recommend taking some time every day this week to practice this. It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will work through this practice to deepen your understanding and love of God.