Moses had a special relationship with God. He had the privilege of entering the tabernacle freely and talking to God “face to face, as one man speaks to another” (Exodus 33:11). Don’t you wish you could have that same experience?
Well, maybe you can. Scripture tells us that we can have “boldness of speech and confidence of access” to the Lord through our faith (Ephesians 3:12). It encourages us to approach God “with a sincere heart and in absolute trust” (Hebrews 10:22).
Here are a few practical thoughts to help you come into the Lord’s presence.
Order and Attitude. One of the most important elements in a good prayer life is a sense of order and consistency. This means setting a specific time to pray each day. Many people find the morning to be the best, before they begin the rush of the day. But you will have to experiment and find the time that works best for you.
It’s also helpful to settle on a specific place: a quiet place in your home, your favorite pew at church, or a local park. Remember that wherever and whenever you pray, your goal is to choose a time and place where distractions are minimal. As Jesus said, “Go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret” (Matthew 6:6).
In addition to order, attitude plays an important role. At the very beginning of your prayer, put your heart and mind in the right place. Think of Moses, who told God, “If you are not going yourself, do not make us go up from here” (Exodus 33:15). Or recall St. Peter, who asked Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Come to prayer with this one goal in mind: to find the Lord and to stay by his side. Tell him, “Father, I am here because I need you. I am here because you are the only One who can give me the grace I need to keep my peace and do your will today.”
Worship. So what do you do once you have set your time and place and once you have established the right attitude? You begin to worship. Use the psalms or the words of Jesus. Sing your favorite hymns, or listen to prayerful music. Remember what St. Augustine said: “Those who sing pray twice.” Contemplate the beauty of God’s creation. Recall the times that God has worked in your life. Recite the truths of the faith that you learned in religious education or in Scripture.
Worship God for who he is: perfect, all-powerful, ever present, just, merciful, and compassionate. Worship him because he loves you. Recall times when he has worked in your life or the life of a loved one. Worship him for his faithfulness and kindness. Open the Bible, and let the word of God inspire your worship. Let Psalm 100 help you set your attitude. Let Psalm 23 help you focus on God’s loving protection. Let Psalm 139 help you focus on his wisdom and faithfulness.
Let these words become your own. Repeat them over and over, if you like, and let the truths embedded in them sink into your heart. As you do, you’ll find yourself feeling closer to the Lord. You’ll feel a sense of peace and a taste of his love. You’ll find yourself more confident, more consoled, and more open to his will. You’ll find yourself saying things like, “Lord, I am in awe of your love.” “Jesus, I am so grateful that you have rescued me from sin.” and “Father, I want to serve you.” In short, you’ll find yourself being drawn into his presence.
An Enlightened Imagination. Once you have found yourself in God’s presence, take the next step, and invite the Spirit to speak to your heart. One of the best ways to do this is by using your imagination as you ponder Scripture. You begin by reading a passage from the Bible—perhaps a story from one of the Gospels or from the life of David or Moses. Read carefully; make sure you understand the story. If your Bible has footnotes, use them to help guide you.
But don’t stop at just grasping the point of the story. Use your imagination as well. In your mind, go back in time, and picture yourself as being a part of the story. Be that extra person with Jesus at the Last Supper or with Moses when he parted the sea. See the expressions on people’s faces and their gestures. Smell the air. Compare the different characters’ reactions with your own. What might you have said or done if you were there?
Using your imagination like this can help make the scene come alive for you. It can give you new insights into God and his ways. It can help you see Jesus and the saints in a new light. St. Ignatius of Loyola used to spend hours imagining what life was like in the Holy Family when Jesus was growing up. He spoke often about how joyful he would become when he imagined himself joining them for a walk, eating dinner with them, or sitting with them as they prayed together.
An Experiment in Prayer. Try it right now. Open your Bible to Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). Read the story a couple of times closely, with a pen and paper at hand. Focus your attention on the father’s conversations with his two sons. Try to imagine the tension and sense of failure on the lost son’s face and the tattered clothes on his back. Listen to the tone of his voice. Imagine what he must have smelled like and what his voice must have sounded like.
Now, see him relax and venture a small smile as he hears his father’s words of love and welcome. Imagine the much bigger smile on his father’s face as he stretches out his arms to embrace his boy. He isn’t focusing on the way his son has squandered half of the family fortune. All that matters is that he has him home safe and sound. Does this help you see how much your Father loves you and welcomes you home every time you repent?
Now, imagine the older son storming into the picture. See the look of disgust on his face. Listen to the bitterness and anger in his voice. Notice the hunch of his shoulders and the way his fists are clenched. He is so upset at this injustice!
Listen to how compassionate the father sounds when he asks his older son to forgive his brother. Imagine the look of concern on his face as he tries to rescue his son from jealousy and an overemphasis on judgment rather than mercy.
Go ahead and picture the scene. Ask the Spirit to help you see how this story may relate to your life or to your relationship with God. Take a few minutes to linger over anything that might come into your mind.
Don’t worry if nothing dramatic comes to you at first. Sometimes we have to get used to quieting our hearts. Sometimes we have to spend a little more time in worship. And sometimes God just wants to teach us how to wait in trust and patience.
Changed by His Glory. St. Francis de Sales once compared the insights we receive from this kind of prayer to a bouquet of flowers, which you can keep as a reminder of the Lord throughout your day. Isn’t that the whole point of prayer? Isn’t it about letting your Father help you change the way you think and act so that you can bring heaven to earth?
So when you find yourself becoming more considerate and caring toward other people, know that it’s because the Holy Spirit is at work making you more like the Lord. When you find yourself becoming more generous or more patient or more willing to share your faith, it’s because God is at work in you. Any number of things can happen—all because you have encountered God’s presence in prayer, and that encounter has made you want to be more like him.