Friends first

By Andy O'Connell

Christ and his friend icon

When I was a student, the importance of the daily 'quiet time' was drilled into me by my fellow Evangelical students. As a charismatic student I always struggled with the idea of 'quiet', preferring to be vocal with the Lord, and found the quiet time model I was given slightly stultifying!

However, the term 'quiet' comes from descriptions of Jesus withdrawing to a 'quiet place' to pray (e.g. Mark 1:35 and 6:31). One of the great successes of the Reformation and since has been the renewal of a personal relationship with Jesus, and this great habit of a daily time with the Lord is vital to everyone who seeks to follow Jesus.

Keen to renew my own daily habits, early in the sabbatical I dived into Pete Greig's new book. Simply titled How to Pray, it combines exciting stories of the 24-7 Prayer movement with simple tips on prayer. It's a must read!

One particular anecdote struck me with force, and I knew God was trying to highlight something to me. Greig recounts a meeting with a Franciscan priest, who challenged him about Evangelical habits of prayer: "What if the hour you spend in the prayer room is when you refocus on Jesus so that you can carry his presence with you into the other twenty-three hours of the day with a heightened awareness that He is with you, He is for you, that He likes you, that He hears your thoughts? You start to pray in real time. You instinctively lift situations to the Lord in the actual moment that you experience them. You're no longer deferring all your prayers to some later, 'holier moment', because your whole life is becoming that holier moment."

At its best the quiet time is a daily appointment with God. But at its worst, it can simply be a rushed moment into which we bring our 'shopping list' of requests, and have little time to listen to the Lord, as our friend and King. Transactional, more than relational! While prayer includes requests, a mature prayer life must be so much more than just requests:

Prayer at its simplest is asking
Prayer at its best is a two-way conversation, relational
Prayer at its deepest is communion, silent, loving relationship (Grieg)

Before the sabbatical I had found myself wanting a richer experience of prayer, and Ruth and I set to learning about other approaches to prayer practised by the global church over the last two millennia. We read books, studied church history, visited church buildings, a monastery and a retreat centre. The book Water from a Deep Well (Sittser) is a particularly accessible review of church history and what we can learn from the pray-ers of different eras.

In particular, I have found myself engaged with the idea of contemplative prayer. If, as I was, you are unfamiliar with that term I recommend Pete Greig's short (2½min) video here, which is an extract from the newly updated prayer course videos, which are highly recommended - and free!

With characteristic bluntness Grieg says contemplative prayer means to show up, shut up and look up. It's stargazing rather than astronomy: wonder and meditation, instead of study and investigation.

All of which brings me to the image here. A Coptic icon from the 6th or 8th Century, it is stored in the Louvre, Paris. Originally entitled Christ and Abbot Mena, the French call it Christ and his Friend. Jesus's arm around his friend the Abbot, speaks of his desire for relationship with us. Greig notes also that while Mena has feet, Christ has none. From this place of friendship with Christ, we go forth to do stuff for him.

Note to my activist self: O'Connell, you are called to do stuff for Christ, but only from a place of being with Christ, as friend, first.

What about you? What new habits would benefit your relationship with the Lord?

Click here for the rest of this blog series.

Andy O'Connell