Daily ritual or holy encounter?

I just finished reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, and y'all—it is completely changing the way I pray! Lately, I have felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to spend more time in prayer, so I've been getting up earlier in the morning to have a longer quiet time (because let's face it, when you are running a daily circus with three small children, if you don't do it then, it won't happen). 

"God has determined that certain expressions of His power will only be exercised in response to prayer. We have not because we ask not. The greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked." Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker

 

My time with God has a lot of structure. I wake up at 6 a.m., and immediately head down to my "worship room" in the basement. I start my time with some worship music and then pray specific prayers from a few books I have (The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian and For the Family by Sylvia Gunter). I have a Psalms/Proverbs reading plan that I follow, and I have a devotional book that I read from (Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson). I also have specific prayer needs for others and for our family that I've written on notecards that I'll pray through. I've found that, especially since I've had kids and am living on less sleep, my mind sometimes wanders (and sometimes I have trouble staying awake), so this type of structure helps me document what I'm praying for and keeps me focused.

But today, I felt a little tugging in my spirit. With all this structure, is God becoming just another ritual in my day? Am I actually encountering His presence, or am I just talking at Him, buttering Him up before handing Him my Honey-Do list?

Ouch. I think it's hard sometimes to distinguish between the two. Devotionals are great for growing in knowledge and wisdom, and I'm convinced that the best way to start my day is in prayer. In fact, Jesus did:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. // Mark 1:35

As believers, we should pray. All the time. (Or as my gangsta friend says, "All day, errday." And I feel like I have more street cred when I say it like that.) Ephesians 6:18 says, "Pray in the Spirit on ALL occasions with ALL kinds of requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for ALL the saints."

Why is prayer so important? Mark Batterson says it so well:

"Prayer doesn't just change circumstances; more important, it changes us. It doesn't just alter external realities; it alters internal realities so that we see with spiritual eyes."

 

I don't know about you, but that promise is so attractive to me. But I'd like to add to it: Prayer is a two-way conversation, not a monologue. Most importantly, prayer is powerful not because of the words we speak but because of God's presence. The prayers we utter are only words if they are not combined with the presence and the power of God.

Today, I noticed that during my time with God, I was the one doing all the talking. Why was that, when I desperately need to hear from Him? I didn't even give Him a chance to speak before I said "amen" and proceeded to make my kids breakfast.

In order for prayer to change us, we need to be still and know He is God. We have to quiet our minds and our mouths and tune in to His still, small voice. We must prostrate ourselves in a posture of humility and exalt Him in order to know His will instead of making ours known. Prayer changes us only if we allow God to change us. And that means that God has to have the floor during our prayer times.

It's those quiet moments where I have a tendency to get distracted planning out the day's agenda or even doze off, but it's ONLY in those moments, in which I let Him speak, that my life will change. If I don't listen, I won't hear or respond to the ideas, the promptings, the guidance, the conviction He speaks that has the power to change me and the world around me.

I don't know if you are like me, but I feel really productive and good about myself when I read my devotion for the day—when I can check my quiet time off my daily to-do list. (Bonus points if I Instagram my devotional book with my super cute coffee mug filled to the brim with mostly creamer, because we all know it didn't happen if it's not on social media.) But did I just participate in a daily ritual such as brushing my teeth or taking out the trash, or did I have a holy encounter with the Lord God Himself? Did I walk away with an extra bit of information that I'll try to apply to my daily life, or did I get utterly swept off my feet by the majestic and wondrous presence of God? Was I changed from the inside out? Did I see with spiritual eyes?

Praying, reading our Bibles, worshiping God, and participating in ministry aren't about fulfilling an obligation or duty; these things only have meaning if we experience God's presence and come away different somehow. We were not created to be slaves to obligation; we were created to abide in His presence. If we lose the wonder of His presence, we can become burnt out by ritual, made weary by going through the motions. We will lose interest because, quite frankly, listening to ourselves becomes uninteresting after only a short while. We run out of things to say, but God never does. His ideas, His thoughts, His ways are infinite, limitless; He always has a fresh word to bring to the table. We just have to put ourselves in a position to hear it.