From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
“The purpose of prayer techniques”

“The purpose of prayer techniques”

Prayer is not a technique but a relationship. There is no unfitness, no obstacle, no problem. The only problem is that we do not want God. We may want a ‘spiritual life’, we may want ‘prayer’, but we do not want God. All anyone can do for us is to keep our eyes on Jesus, God’s perfect, absolute friend.

adapted from Ruth Burrows Our Father

Maybe something of what I have written about prayer over the past few months, or maybe something else you have been listening to or reading – the scriptures or a book or podcast – has stirred a love for God in you and a desire to abide more intimately with God. You have felt a stirring of the Holy Spirit within. Your heart is bearing witness that God is drawing you further along the way of prayer.

Some of my articles have been about prayer more generally, such as embarking on the practice or dealing with distractions. Others have been more specific, about methods such as praying the Examen or walking the labyrinth. I offer these only as suggestions that you might find useful. None are prescriptive.

It is important not to confuse a method with prayer. The purpose of a method is to lead you into prayer. It is not an end in itself. Nor is there any prayer method that when performed leads to guaranteed outcomes. It is not a case of pressing a switch and the light comes on, or rubbing a lamp to summon God. If that were the case, it would be all about you and your effort and achievement, and less about God. To paraphrase Philippians 1.6, it is God who has begun this work in you, and God will bring it to completion.

James Finley of the Turning to the Mystics podcast likes to say that in prayer “there’s no agenda but love”. Each method is really a means of getting your ego out of the way and lowering your resistance to being overtaken by love. It’s a way of making concrete or embodying your desire for God. So for example Lectio Divina is not Bible study or a way of learning about God, but a means of putting yourself at the threshold of contemplation to be drawn by God into loving encounter with God.

Finding a technique that helps is a process of discernment. More about that next month. But if you do want God for Godself and you don’t need a method then don’t use one. Sometimes you might find that your method leads you into prayer, and then your prayer deepens and the method simply falls away. Let it fall, and continue with the prayer. It’s all grace.


This is one of a series of articles appearing in Exeter Cathedral’s monthly news, complementing the material I contributed to the “Explore Prayer” section of the Cathedral website. I hope you find them helpful.