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Growing Deeper in Prayer

Photo of Sydney ClaytonSydney Clayton | Bio

Sydney Clayton

Sydney is a disciple, wife, and mom to 3 young boys. Along with her husband, she planted and helps serve Ethos Church, a young, urban church in Nashville, TN that is passionate about reaching the lost, serving the poor, and releasing ordinary people to plant churches all over the world. In addition, she is a college professor with a doctorate in Physical Therapy, and enjoys training disciple makers in a variety of contexts. Sydney is especially passionate about equipping a new generation of women to live as disciple makers.

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you . . . . For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children, we are his heirs.” – Romans 8:11, 16

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

This is a journey.

Thank goodness this is a journey. Just when I think I have made some progress down the road navigating this spiritual journey, I have this realization: I am really just beginning. Kind of like an iceberg. I pat myself on the back having mapped out the top of the iceberg, only to realize there is a depth that I still do not understand. I have mapped the surface, but not touched what’s under the water, or the inside of the iceberg with its many layers and crags. This is how I feel about prayer.

Sure, prayer is easy. No one needs a theological degree to come to the Lord in prayer. You can do it when you are alone, or with others. You can pray when you are joyful and grateful. You can also hit your knees in times of overwhelming grief and loneliness, and He is always there. There. There. What does “there” mean? I feel like I have been chasing a destination of “there” for so many years. I have been trying to reach the destination of “God’s presence,” to “come into His presence.”

Do you know what I have learned recently? I have learned that I need not chase down a foreign destination. I only need to turn inward. The Bible tells us that God dwells within those who have been saved by Jesus Christ. He has placed Holy Spirit in us. I have known that for a long time now, but I understand it a little bit better today than I did yesterday. Is God Almighty bigger than us and beyond us? Absolutely! However, if you are a follower of Christ, He has gifted us with His Spirit dwelling within each of us on this journey.

Isn’t that what it is about? Continuing on our journey? Just moving forward? Just one step at a time. He is calling us into deeper waters, just deep enough that our feet cannot touch the soft bottom of the ocean floor any more as the salt water laps in our faces, and we have to trust that He has taught us how to swim. We have to trust that He calls us, and He has equipped us. Just come.

I have had moments where I know He is calling, pushing, pulling, tugging, whatever you want to call it, but I know it is He who is moving me. Then I have times I cannot tell if it is me, or He that is wanting me to move. I am learning to discern it a little better. I am learning through prayer. I am trusting that as I turn inward to the Holy Spirit and quiet myself, I am fully present in His presence.

I am a to-do lister, an efficiency expert, and an action kind of gal. In other words, I like to get things done and see the fruit of my labor instantly. But that just isn’t how prayer always works. I have had to turn off my ever-churning brain and keep disciplining myself to stop feeding into the flooding thoughts that creep in as I am trying to pray. Yes, I stop the thoughts and keep turning inward. I have to do it repeatedly sometimes. Some days it feels more of a struggle than others. I have tried to use a note pad to write my distracting thoughts down to get them out of my head, but it just disrupts my train of thought and I am often left chasing a meandering thought down another rabbit hole. Instead, I have been stopping the thoughts and refocusing inward again toward Holy Spirit. It is a discipline in itself.

I am learning to be fully present in His presence. Here are some practical things that have helped me do this a little better.

  • Put my phone far away from me (another room) and on silent.
  • Have nothing else around me.
  • Go for walks as I pray.
  • Write in a prayer journal to keep me focused.
  • Pray audibly, out loud. Nothing fancy, just normal conversation.
  • Ask one question to God, and sit with a pen and paper ready to hear what God has to share with me. Maybe it is a word, scripture, or a vision.
  • Praise the Lord God Almighty and thank Him for all the things I can think of in my life.
  • Pray for more of God’s voice, and less of mine.
  • Wake up to pray before the sun is up, and before my kids are up.
  • Worship unashamed before quieting myself for prayer.
  • Read scripture, not for content, but as a way to quiet my mind. Keep reading until I feel “clicked in.” Then I stop to listen and commune with our Father.
  • Read a small section of scripture, maybe just a verse and keep repeating it slowly to see what God wants to reveal to me in that scripture.
  • Pray with another person or in a group.
  • Read a scripture and actually draw my representation of that scripture while I am praying.
  • Confess, even what feels like the small stuff, and ask forgiveness of your sins.
So, the biggest take away in this prayer journey?

God sees me as a child. He is giving me the grace to learn and to grow. He is gifting me in unique ways from His Spirit and I am growing into them. I am trying to be patient with myself, disciplining myself, and expectant of spiritual growth for myself. After all, this is a journey and not a destination. You don’t have to chase Him down! He is already with us on this journey. Just turn to Holy Spirit within you. He is already with you.