Prayer: Reflections from Matt Bell

In the formation of my own prayer life, seeing others pray and learning from them has played an integral role. In recent years, I’ve been blessed by numerous saints whose prayers and insights have both inspired and challenged me. One of those individuals is my friend, Matt Bell. Matt and I became friends in seminary, and also became colleagues in ministry at Korean United Presbyterian Church. I and the Upper Room are also blessed to have Matt and his wife Alyssa as a part of our worshipping community. Matt is currently pursuing a PhD in Patristics from the University of Durham, and is also one of the instructors and founders of the Ancient Christian Faith Initiative. Below are seven questions that I posed to Matt in an email, followed by Matt’s response – he chose to weave the answers to the questions into a larger narrative. Thanks, Matt for your wisdom and witness.

  1. When and how often do you pray?
  2. What do your times of prayer look like? How are they structured? Do you pray in a particular physical posture?
  3. Are there any particular prayers or Scriptures that you find yourself coming back to when you pray?
  4. Do you remain consisten in your prayer practices or do you change things up from time to time?
  5. How do you determine/discern who or what to pray for? How do you discern what specifically to ask for on behalf of those people/matters?
  6. What do you ask for when you pray for yourself?
  7. How long has it taken you to develop your current discipline of prayer?

I always feel a little cheeky answering questions about my prayer life as if it were something to be imitated or learned from.  Prayer and corporate worship are both struggles for me; I recall a cloud of difficulty, at times verging on pain, descending upon me around when I became a teenager.  The difficulty led me to different responses, sometimes to a weariness and unbelief that’s left me in stunned silence.  It may be that reflections on that would be most helpful to you and your readers, so I’ll post that as background to answering your numbered questions.  I’ll try to weave answers to the numbered ones in the larger narrative.

First of all, like most Christians, I was raised to expect God to answer prayer by speaking back, sometimes in words, in images, through signs, through other Christians in the Church…….Worship on Sunday mornings was especially passionate.  We tried to be emotionally open to the Holy Spirit, to have our hearts open.  Feelings were important, and outward response to God was important.  Worship of this kind was a sort of prayer, even the core discipline.  Since you ask about posture, upraised hands were our most common gesture.  We were told it represented sacrifice — that with one’s hand upraised, you were lifting stuff up to God.

At around age 13, maybe a little earlier, a couple changes happened.  First, I stopped “feeling” God in corporate worship, which experience I interpreted as divine displeasure.  Second, for whatever reason, I became extremely self-conscious about raising hands in worship.  It became difficult for me to do it.  My sister, Rebekah, became similarly affected about raising hands, but she articulated a different reason: it felt artificial.  She observed people raising hands to be visible to others, and was offended by the hypocrisy.  I can’t remember why I didn’t raise my hands — only that it was hard, and that God felt distant.  I remember around that time that I tried to start manipulating my emotions, to stir myself inwardly to passion towards God, all to no avail.  The effort simply increased my pain.  Around that time, the pastor even gave a word of knowledge that someone in worship was “working too hard”.  That was a very unhelpful word for me, because it simply led to frustration — I couldn’t stop working, or felt I couldn’t.  To work led to pain, to stop working felt like apathy.  Gradually, this experience grew until it covered everything, taking over my spiritual life bit by bit, like an advancing glacier.

Looking back at this time I sometimes find myself surprised, because although it felt like God was so absent, I now can see he was stunningly present.  It’s been that way a lot throughout the years — when I look at the present moment, all I see is confusion.  When I look at the past with gratitude, I see the Lord everywhere.  So it was with that time.  Three or four experiences related to the nature of prayer stand out very dramatically from that period.  The first happened as I was waking up, engaging in very mundane, early morning “get-ready-for-the-day” activity.  I was pitying myself over the lack of feelings of God’s presence as I got washed up, occasionally complaining to the Lord about it and asking why he was displeased with me.  The Spirit broke the silence and said, “Why do you need feelings from me?  Is it not enough goodness just to worship me, even without the feelings?”  The second was years later, when I was in college.  I was walking around the campus, struggling with prayer.  I was on the third floor of Corbett Center, the student union building at NMSU, standing nearby the payphones on one side of the building by the stairs.  I complained to God about the struggle, said that I could not pray, and he responded to the effect, “Your problem is not that you cannot pray, but that you will not.”  On another occasion he said, “You don’t believe.”  Through these experiences, I began to learn that prayer is not about feeling God respond, but acting in confidence that he is there and will respond.  A third experience occurred as I was trying to quiet myself to hear his voice on a particular request.  The Spirit interrupted and said, “I have no difficulty speaking to you.  I don’t need you to do that.”  Through experiences like this, I was slowly brought through to a place where I could again worship and pray not without difficulty, but in spite of not feeling things, not hearing things.

Perhaps because of the difficulty, though, I don’t really have set times of prayer or strict habits.  Having them might help; I’ve not set them, however.  I tend to try to pray throughout the day, to cultivate an awareness of God’s presence.  Since meeting Alyssa, who is more structured, I do now pray with her once a day about certain specific, “covenanted” requests — for the salvation of five people we have agreed to pray for daily, and for needs in our family.  We begin by going over our requests and debriefing about our day, then reading a psalm slowly, then alternating our requests.

I’ve found it very helpful to think of prayer as participation in the divine counsel.  I really believe this is the case.  Prayer is not just “me and God”.  Prayer is a priestly activity.  In addition to myself there are saints and angels, including some fallen powers, before the Throne.  The Lamb is on the throne and in the midst of the elders, and the Father is upon the throne.  The Lamb is the great high priest, and the saints and holy angels are lesser priests, and they all offer sacrifices of incense and intercession to the One on the Throne through the Lamb, who ever intercedes and whose intercessions will not be rejected.  It is a royal, as well as a liturgical, space.  The Lamb is the Son and Crown Prince, the One on the Throne is the Father and King.  The saints are adopted and beloved sons, royalty invited into the King’s secret councils.  The more one gets to know the Father and the Son and the Spirit, the more confidence one has in prayer, for your prayers cease to be the petitions of an individual.  They become participation in the governance of the kingdom, and the King is just and good and passionately interested in the wellbeing of the kingdom and everything that occurs within it.  Other councils are also being voiced before the throne, and not all of them intend well.  Some are subversive, hostile to the King and Crown Prince and the interests of the kingdom.  They persecute the saints and make war against the angels.  Thus, it is desperately important not simply that good “win”, but that the Victor appear good — that at the end of the day it be clear who is righteous and who is not.  Prayer and worship participate in this, too.  The saints ever keep in mind the reputation of the One on the throne and of the Lamb.  Their very identities are integrated with that of the King, for he is their father by adoption, the source of their own beatitude and ground of their rule in the kingdom.  They are jealous that he be honored, and pray with that in mind.  What they speak in the council they do so to honor the King and the Lamb and neutralize the enemies.  The more we get to know the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the more we can speak effectively to this end.  We come to know the love of God and enter more deeply into his counsel and life.  The more we know the love of God, the more confident grow our prayers, where love is not always or just a feeling, but an act of the will that becomes the fabric of one’s very being and identity.

The above effects how I pray, or perhaps the above view grew out of our I prayed — it’s difficult to tell.  I try to pray daily and as often as I think of it.  Periodically, I try to engage what Dave Hansen calls “long, wondering prayer” — walking a few miles, letting my distracted mind simply be distracted before God, treating life as something lived in the Presence.  I do use gestures, especially when out amongst people.  If I sense I’m being hypocritical or worried for my own appearance, I withdraw; otherwise, I try to worship and pray outwardly in a way to direct the attentions of those around me to what is going on in the Spirit’s realm.  Hands upraised in blessing and words such as “Blessed be…” or “Let it be….” are not simply requests (although they are), but participation in the life and rule of God over the creation.  When God himself is the One blessed, the creation is being offered back to Him in sacrifice, it’s transformation interceded for that He might properly be blessed by and within it, his just and loving character no longer obscured by the malice of demons and men.  Hands raised with palms up or resting on my knees symbolize openness to receive from him.  He doesn’t need the gestures, though.  (Invocation is not incantation.  Incantation is where an occultist tries to manipulate the divine; invocation operates out of the confidence that God is open to us and for us, and wills the best, and is active in the world, and so does not need to be manipulated!  In fact, he rather dislikes it…)

When doing the above, there are some bits and pieces of prayer I do find myself, personally, coming back to.  These are largely fragments of scripture and liturgy.  These days, I find myself using a lot phrases including the trishagion, the Jesus prayer, blessing upon the kingdom of the Trinity, affirmation that God is the source of all goodness and that we only offer to him out of his goodness (“All things come from you, and of your own do we give you”), pleading for mercy upon myself and the system of which I am a part, and sometimes appeals to his reputation a la the psalms.

In discerning how to pray and for whom, I find it helpful to keep a couple general guidelines in mind.  First, abstraction is frequently the devil’s realm, whereas the concrete and actually real is the Holy Spirit’s.  I think it was Oswald Chambers (but it may have been Bonhoeffer) who noted this with regards to the confession of sin and guilt — that Satan likes to stir up self-hatred along the lines of generalities (“you’re not pious enough”), but that the Holy Spirit is specific (“just now you were unreasonably angry with your brother”).  Tim Becker taught me that this applies over a vast range of matters.  Whenever a matter occurs to me, I try to think of some particular, specific request I can make about that matter, keeping in mind the just, loving character of God.  I then try to articulate that request in words.  If my request is too abstract, I try not to make it; if it has been corrupted with unbelief regarding the character of God, I confess it as brokenness and plead for mercy on myself and do not make it as a request.

On praying for myself, if I find myself falling into self-pity, I focus on gratitude and intercession.  If I am genuinely suffering, however, or am in real pain, I pray for myself.  C.S. Lewis notes that it is a trick of the enemy (temptation towards spiritual pride?) to convince us we should never pray for ourselves.  Sometimes we need mercy to strengthen us so that we can pray for others.  Here, I find it helpful to think of myself as like a ranger in a rough wilderness, responsible to help guide other pilgrims through treacherous land.  If my health or good judgment becomes compromised I risk the safety of everyone with me.  Of course, sometimes a ranger has to treck ahead despite pain.  There are no clear rules here, only guidelines.  Our success hinges not upon our genius to get it right, but on the faithfulness of Jesus, whose Spirit is the chief “ranger” who searches all things in this wilderness, even the infinite depths of God, and who will not get lost or tired.  If we get a bit wrong, we stumble, repent in His grace, then get up — and he is pleased with us doing so.

I hope this helps and isn’t either too general, on the one hand, or without sufficient explanation on the other!


Prayer: The Examen

As I’ve been thinking about prayer over the past several weeks, I’ve also taken stock of my own prayer life. Too often for me (and I suspect this becomes the case for many) prayer becomes routine. Every morning, I take time to read the Bible, and to read from another theological work. Prayer usually gets sandwiched between these two times of reading. Many times I don’t know what to pray for. Who to pray for is not a problem; only a few moments of reflection will quickly bring to mind plenty of people and situations for whom and for which I ought to be praying. But what to pray for – what to ask God to do for this people or in those situations – often becomes stale and unthoughtful.

As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve been finding myself confronted with my own unbelief. Do I actually belief God answers these prayers? Do I believe that God is listening? I concluded that I needed to find concrete ways to experience what God was doing in my midst and how God was answering prayers I was praying. So, I decided to practice the examen.

The examen is a spiritual exercise taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola. You can read a more detailed explanation of what examen is and looks like in practice here. A basic explanation of the examen is that it’s time spent consciously in God’s presence at the end of the day. It includes reviewing the events of your day and giving thanksgiving for the gifts God gave, and searching your own conscious and heart in the decisions you made.

Though I’m still not perfectly disciplined in practicing the examen – I’m rarely able to practice it multiple days in a row – I’ve hoped that practicing the examen would help me to see what God is doing in my life. It’s helped in that, but what I’ve noticed more is how practicing the examen has changed the way I go through my day. Since practicing the examen, I’ve found myself more deliberately recognizing what God is doing as He’s doing it.

The examen has disciplined me in practicing the presence of God throughout my day. I’m still far from able to do this perfectly. In fact I’m still rarely able to be fully present to God’s work in my midst for more than an hour. Nevertheless, I think this is the real benefit of practicing the examen. Being able to see how God is at work in hind sight is a blessing, but seeing God at work in the present makes the previous reflection worthwhile.

Prayer: Learning from Our Lord

Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best – as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.

Paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer by Eugene Peterson in The Message

Whenever I read Luke 11, I’m always intrigued by the request made to Jesus by an unnamed disciple at the beginning of the chapter. “Lord, teach us to pray.” It’s a request I often pray myself when I begin a time of prayer and feel as if I don’t know what to say. The lesson in prayer that Jesus gives in this chapter of Scripture is what we now call The Lord’s Prayer. The Spiritual Formation workbook I’ve been going through included an exercise in meditating on Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer (quoted above). I appreciate a lot of the insights Peterson gives through it. Here are each of the petitions in the “traditional” translation side by side with Peterson’s paraphrase along with some of my thoughts on how the paraphrase enriches the meaning.

Hallowed be Thy name -> Reveal who you are

“Hallowed be…” is from the King James Version, and is an archaic way of expressing a request for God’s name to be considered holy. God’s name is most “hallowed” by those who see Him most clearly. In the visions of the heavenly throne room in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4, those around the throne never cease to cry out, “HOLY! HOLY! HOLY!” When we pray this petition, we’re asking God to reveal himself to ourselves, to the Church, and to the world, that we might cry “Holy!” with authenticity and passion.

Thy Kingdom come -> Set the world right.

The Kingdom of God is equivalent to a “right” world; a world without hunger or poverty, without sickness or disease, without sin or injustice. This echoes of Mary’s Song in Luke. When I pray this petition, I want to have in mind particular, specific, situations in the world that are not right at the present, and ask God to set it right.

Thy will be done -> Do what’s best.

There can be nothing greater than God’s will. Praying this with faith requires a broadened perspective. I intuitively want what’s best for myself. I need to pray for what’s best from God’s perspective. As we grow in faith and in relationship to the Father Son and Holy Spirit, we understand more clearly God’s will, and can pray for God’s will to be done in very specific and concrete ways.

Give us this day our daily bread -> Keep us alive with three square meals.

Of all the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, I take this one the most for granted (as I’m guessing most Americans who pray this prayer do). Even as someone right out of school and in a career that I’m never going to get rich in, I live in considerable abundance compared to most of the world. Frankly, I have difficulty even imagining the situation being different. In a lifestyle of abundance, it’s difficult to perceive dependence upon God for daily sustenance. Like Job, though, my plenty can be taken away at any time. At no point does my plenty exceed my need for God’s provision.

Forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass/sin against us -> Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.

I find it fascinating that Peterson translates this petition in terms of sustenance – “keep us…” – just as he translates the previous petition. Forgiveness is sustenance. For God to withdraw His forgiveness from us, or for us to withhold forgiveness from others, would be as detrimental and malnourishing to us as deprivation from food. Praying this petition ought to lead us to asking, “Who am I withholding forgiveness from?”

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil -> Keep us safe from ourselves and the devil.

I don’t think I’ve ever before thought of temptation as me imposing a threat on myself. But this is what Peterson’s paraphrase implies. This would make sin a form of sadomasochism. In our desire to sin, whether it’s a deliberate sin against someone else or a sin of self-indulgence, the temptation to commit any such sin poses an ominous threat to our own well-being. What if we really considered the danger our own sin imposes on ourselves?

“Lord, teach us to pray” is a prayer we ought to pray, and a prayer our Lord is eager to answer. Next time you pray the prayer that is the answer to that request, slow down and consider all that those petitions connote and imply.

Prayer: How Specific Should Our Prayers Be?

A while back, I felt convicted that as a pastor, I wasn’t praying enough. It was hard for me to see prayer as something I was supposed to do “on the clock.” If I wasn’t talking with someone, writing a sermon, answering an email, preparing a Bible study, I didn’t think it was ministry. I came to realize through conversations with more experienced ministers and through reading Scripture that prayer is what I’m supposed to be doing more than anything. So, I started praying more.

This has developed into praying very specific prayers. For example, in my InterVarsity work, I’ve become convicted that God’s vision for grad students at Carnegie Mellon is for there to be a network of witnessing communities in every college at CMU. Since Jesus says that wherever two or three are gathered, he’s there with them, I decided that at least two missional grad students in each college at CMU was a reasonable expectation, so that’s what I’ve been asking for. Likewise, I’ve realized recently how great it is to have “divine appointments” – moments in which I can either share my faith or hear someone else share about their faith. I felt convicted to pray for a divine appointment every day, and have been amazed at the frequency with which God answers those prayers.

Some of the responses I’ve gotten from fellow Christians about this praying have been interesting. When someone else in a prayer group heard me ask God specifically for two missional Christians in every college at CMU, he responded, “So you’re a person who prays numbers? I’ve been told that when you do that God will do one of three things, he’ll either give you less than what you ask for, give you  more than what you ask for, or give you something completely different.” Translation: If you ask God for something too specific, there’s no chance that he’ll grant your request to the “T.”

Likewise, when another colleague learned of my asking for a divine appointment each day, his response was cautionary. He reminded me that the reason those prayers were being answered wasn’t because God was doing anything different, but because I had simply made myself more open to divine appointments happening. Translation: Prayer is less about asking God to do something and more about making us more attune to what God is already doing.

It’s hard to pray specific prayers. In fact, it’s hard to ask anyone, whether God or a fellow human being, for something specific. In my support raising for InterVarsity, I’ve been encouraged to ask for potential donors to give specific amounts of money. Mustering up the courage to do this is extremely difficult, and I’m rarely able to find that much courage. Asking for something specific is scary because it increases the chance that our request will be rejected. The same is true for prayers to God; the more abstract our prayers, the less likely those prayers will go unanswered and the less likely our faith will be shaken.

At the same time, though, the specific prayers that I’ve been praying have been increasing, not decreasing, my faith. One of the influences on me in praying these specific prayers has been my InterVarsity training materials. InterVarsity’s Chapter Planting Manual encourages planters to ask God to bring specific numbers of students to various events, and when it does this, it says to only ask for the number of people you can pray for in faith. In other words, when you pray specifically, don’t pray for more than what you believe God can do. I don’t take specific prayers lightly. Praying in this way has forced me to reflect on my own faith and to think through what I truly believe my God is capable of.

Also, praying for “divine appointments” has, in my opinion, done far more than simply open me up to what God is already doing. I’m always amazed at how often God answers this prayer when I pray it, and how often divine appointments don’t happen when I forget to pray this prayer. I think God is teaching me something in this experience about his own heart for those whom He loves. God longs to gather His lost sheep, and He longs to do it through the voice of his people. Praying for divine appointments is showing me the heart of God in a very intimate way.

Specific prayers are dangerous. They make us far more vulnerable before God. But when we take them seriously, they also make us more honest with God about our own faith, and they open up for us the opportunity to experience God in ways far more vivid.

Thoughts on “The New Christians” by Tony Jones

the_new_christians_tony_jonesAbout a year ago, now, I attended the Church Basement Roadshow when it stopped at Hot Metal Bridge Faith Communty in Pittsburgh. The Roadshow was a book tour for 3 then-recently-published books by Tony Jones, Mark Scandrette, and Doug Pagitt. I was really intrigued by what Tony had to say then, and so I picked up Tony’s book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier.

Though he stepped down from the position last year, at the time of writing The New Christians, Tony was serving as the National Coordinator for Emergent Village. In The New Christians, Tony gives an explanation of the emerging church movement, including the shifts in our broader cultural context from modernity to post-modernity, some of the earlier history of the movement, the theology and ecclesiology behind the movement, and some contemporary stories that illustrate what the emerging church looks like on the ground.

The stories from the movement, both its early history and more recent stories of emerging churches, are what’s most helpful in the book. More than anything else, the emerging church is a movement of people. It’s difficult to define emergent Christianity in terms of a particular doctrine or theory, which Tony illustrates very well in the diversity of stories he tells. Tony’s stories aren’t just diverse in terms of the theological perspective of the individuals, though. Tony also reports “dispatches” of emergents who are very much at the center of the movement (though they wouldn’t like to be considered at the center or choose to be there) as well as lesser known emergents, faithfully demonstrating the movement’s egalitarian values.

What I found less helpful about the book is the ways in which Tony handles his and the emerging church’s critics. Tony begins the book by critiqueing and attempting to reveal the weaknesses of both evangelical/fundamentalist/conservative forms of Christianity and liberal/progressive forms of Christianity, as well as criticize both the religious right and left for attacking each other and the emerging church. He concludes that “Christian leaders resort to unnuanced attacks on one another.” [p.21] While this may be true, Tony says this after critiqueing and rejecting both the “right” and the “left” in less than 20 pages. His criticisms ultimately comes across as the pot calling the kettle black.

Tony also takes the comments of his critics VERY personally. Granted, some of his critcs have made comments that are very personal. Yet as I read the book, I couldn’t help but get the impression that Tony wasn’t prepared for some of the harsh criticism his thoughts have received. Much of the book comes across as defensive, and in some cases even as emotional venting.

The personal responses to personal attacks lead to what I think is the greatest weakness of the book. Because Tony responds in such a personal way that it’s hard to tell when Tony is talking about the characteristics of the emerging church and when he’s speaking more from his own opinion.

At the same time, this may be the book’s greatest strength. For much of the book, reading it feels like sitting across the table with Tony and chatting him. The New Christians is very much an insiders account of the emerging church, and Tony’s personal interest in the movement, his passion, and his emotions give the book an extra measure of authenticity.

If you’re looking to be inspired or to find new insights into the current state of the church, The New Christians will probably disappoint you. If you’re looking for an authentic first-hand account of the emerging church movement, though, The New Christians is certainly worth checking out.

Prayer: Keeping it Simple

Simplicity is the characteristic of all real prayer and nothing pleases God better. He does not want so much formality in his service; great harm has been done by the reduction of devotion to a fine art dependent on so many rules. After all, everything depends on the Holy Spirit; it is he alone who teaches the true way of conversing with God and we see how, when he lays hold of a soul, the first thing he does is to withdraw it from all the rules made by men.

– Jean-Nicholas Grou, How to Pray

I struggle with simplicity in prayer. By simplicity, I’m not referring to intellect. I don’t think that prayers can be “too intellectual.” Our intellect is a part of who we are, and we’re to submit our intellects to Christ and use them in prayer. By simplicity, I mean honesty.

Many times my prayers feel empty and completely disconnected from myself. This happens to me often as a pastor. There have been (and will, no doubt, continue to be) times when I’ve been asked to pray for something or someone and have had no idea what to pray. Usually this happens in some type of public setting – the opening or closing of a meeting, a small group session, and, I’m ashamed to confess, in pastoral visitations. I’ll be asked to pray for a person or situation, will not know the situation well enough to know what to pray for, so I’ll simply start to spew words out of my mouth and hope they go somewhere. Often times the words “just” and “bless” shows up in these prayers more frequently than normal. (“Dear God, bless ________. I just lift him/her up to you right now. And I pray that you would just bless them….”) My prayers feel completely disconnected from what’s really happening.

Often times, I run into this problem when I’m not being fully present to the situation. Either I’m daydreaming and thinking about something else entirely. Or, I am paying attention to the situation, but strictly from a human point of view with no attention to the Spirit’s presence. And so I begin praying perhaps too quickly, usually jumping into speaking to God without having given any thought to what I ought to say.

What’s even more troubling is that I don’t just run into this problem when praying for others, but also when I’m praying for myself. (“Dear God, I pray your blessing upon this day. I just lift up all that I’ll be doing up to you. And I pray that you will just bless it…”) Many times, my prayers feel completely disconnected from myself. When I have my own times of prayer, I often jump into my prayers too quickly. I see them as an obligation to be fulfilled for the day, and give no thought to the prayer before I begin. So empty words begin to spew out of my mouth that have no connection with my heart.

As I’ve been working to overcome this, I’m finding three things helpful:

1.) Silence is OK. If I need time to more fully appreciate a situation or to know what to say to God, it’s better to take that time and wait to begin praying than to fill silence by praying empty words.

2.) Begin by meditating on who God is. Meditating on who God is, especially in light of what or who I’m going to be praying about has helped me to know what to ask God to do, since all that God does comes out of who God is.

3.) If I still have no idea how to pray for myself, begin by confessing my life to God. I’ve learned this from reading St. Augustine’s Confessions. Much of what Augustine writes is simply recounting to God his life experiences, and reflecting on what God was doing in those situations. Doing this myself has led to insights into who I am, and who I am becoming, that I had never realized before.