Have you ever felt “stuck” when it comes to prayer? In the midst of both personal and global crises, it can feel challenging to maintain a meaningful and effective prayer practice. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what to pray for and how, you’re not alone.
As we welcome a new year, we invite you to find and practice new rhythms of prayer that can help deepen your communion with God, your compassion for yourself and others and even change the world.
Why practice prayer?
At World Relief, we prioritize prayer as foundational to accomplishing our mission to serve the most vulnerable. In communities around the world, our staff and church partners pursue an embodied faith that is rooted in prayer because we believe the gospel cannot be powerful through us until it is powerful in us.
Often, lasting transformation begins with seeing ourselves and those we walk alongside through God’s loving and compassionate eyes in prayer. As co-laborers with the Triune God, we must cultivate prayerful practices of discernment and connection with the Holy Spirit in order to be equipped to face power, dominions and forces that will work against us.
Practicing the Prayer of Examen
One of my favorite reflective prayer practices for the new year is an Examen — a chance to look back at the last year before looking ahead at the year to come.
Introduced by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century, the Prayer of Examen helps us notice God’s continual presence in our lives, how we’ve been shaped and influenced by our history and environment and what needs to change in our lives so we can increasingly receive and extend love. This practice reminds me of Sankofa, an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, that invites us to return (san), go (ko), look, seek, and take (fa). The literal translation of the word and the symbol is, “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”
Through the Examen, we look into God’s loving eyes and become aware of our own vulnerabilities and shortcomings and receive God’s unconditional love, which transforms and enables us to extend love to others — to move toward generous action and a more intentional life based on the good news of Jesus Christ.
Staying Rooted in the Practice of Prayer
This prayer practice has been a lifeline for me both personally and professionally. My work in child development and child protection can often be heavy. I feel the pull to lament God’s absence in the midst of so much violence and injustice that children face around the globe — but the contemplative practice of the Examen beckons me to pay attention and name where God is visible.
When I attend to the interior silence, compassion flows. I see God. I delight in God’s presence and joy abounds. As scholar and theologian Willie James Jennings said, “I look at joy as an act of resistance against despair and its force.” The Prayer of Examen helps root me, still creating space for lament but protecting me from despair.
The Prayer of Examen
The 5-step Examen is usually prayed in the evening before one retires for bed or at the start of the next day, but can be adapted to any interval of time — annually, monthly, weekly or daily.
It can take as little as five minutes or as long as you’d like. Do not feel that you need to do all five steps every time. This isn’t a precise formula or a task to complete. It is simply a way of attuning to God’s presence:
1. Becoming aware of God’s presence
Ask for light. Prayer is a conversation with God. Ask God to enlighten you, showing where he has been at work and present in your day through events, people and places. Imagine yourself being with Jesus as with a friend. Ask to see your day through his eyes and to feel with his heart.
Lord, you are here.
2. Giving Thanks
Ignatius believed that gratitude is the first and most important step on our journey with Christ. Spend a few moments savoring the gifts and blessings of the day. This may be a space to honor the gifts of others or the gifts God has instilled within you as well.
Lord, all is a gift from you, including myself.
Jesus, what gifts did you bless me with today?
What am I most grateful for today?
3. Paying attention to feelings and inner movements
Ask the Spirit to reveal the day to you through God’s eyes. Ask God to help you become attentive to your experience and curious about the ways in which he has been at work in your life today. Review the moments of your day under the loving gaze of God — not with self-judgment or self-condemnation. Notice what has led you toward God and away from God, including your reactions to these events, people and places. Lord, show me what has been happening to me and in me today.
Jesus, today what gave me life (brought me closer to you)?
What drained life out of me (took me away from you)?
How have you been inviting me today?
4. Seek forgiveness and ask God for help
The Spirit has the opportunity to work in our depths in ways that can prepare us for further transformation. Ask God’s forgiveness for the times when you have acted, spoken or thought contrary to his grace and calling for you. Ask God to help you see yourself and others through his eyes as image bearers. Author Cole Arthur Riley says, “When we believe in the dignity of ourselves and others as image bearers of God, it becomes more difficult to remain content with the bondage with which you have become so acquainted.”
Lord, I am still learning to grow in your love.
Jesus, how have I trusted or depended more on myself than on you and your love?
5. Look ahead and resolve to change
Walking in hope, seek God’s mercies that are new every day. Discern what the Holy Spirit is inviting you to change in your behavior or attitude to move toward more generous action. Think through what will happen tomorrow and how it can be different with God’s grace and love at the center of your life.
Lord, let me walk in hope with you.
Jesus, how do You invite me to be more attentive or responsive to you tomorrow?
Remember to be gracious with yourself and accept the reality of highs and lows in your times of prayer. Union with God is not something we acquire by a technique. We’re already in the presence of God, and our prayer practices help us in our life-long journey of awareness.
This new year, may you stay grounded in the truth that, as Father Keating says, “We do not have to go anywhere to find God because he is already drawing us in every conceivable way into the union with himself.”
Looking to go deeper in your journey with Christ? Get our free Lent Devotional and discover God’s heart for those on the margins and where he might be calling you to respond.
Krystel Mumba serves as the Technical Program Advisor of Child Development & Protection as part of the International Programs team with World Relief. Krystel is also a certified Spiritual Director through the Anglican Diocese of New England and loves the honor of bearing witness to the work of the Holy Spirit.