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In this excerpt from his new book, Rick Hamlin shares how God's presence comes in surprising ways.
Some writers talk about the discipline of meditation and prayer as though you have to take a mental whip to the thoughts that swirl around in your head and corral them back to your intention. You’re supposed to seek a sublime emptiness to find the presence of God.
In all my years of praying I’ve never been very successful at that. The brain is too active (at least mine is). Instead I think you should be very forgiving about all the thoughts that enter your head when you pray. They are not just distractions. They might be the main event. This is what you came for, to hear what’s happening in your head. Listen to it. Pay attention. Ask God where you need help. Drop your worries in God’s lap. Look for where you are needed….
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Some days on the subway, when I’m ready to close my eyes and pray, somebody will sit down next to me and I’ll know I need to talk.
“Hi, Rick. How are you?” says a neighbor I haven’t seen for a long time. I sigh. Don’t you see my Bible in my lap? Can’t you tell I’m busy? What arrogance! Maybe the thing God had in mind for me that morning was to listen to what my neighbor had to say.
One June morning it was a guy I hadn’t seen much since our boys played Little League together. He’s a high school teacher and was a terrific coach for our boys. I loved hanging out with him, but I wasn’t in a chatty mood just now. “Hi, Rick,” he said.
“Hi, Bob,” I said, “how are you?” I reluctantly slid my Bible back into my gym bag.
“I’m doing okay,” he said. We talked about our boys first, where they were, what they were doing. Small talk. But then he said, “I’m heading downtown to hand in my resignation. This is my last year of teaching.”
“Wow,” I said. “What are you going to do next?”
He talked about some of his plans and how he was feeling in the lurch, un-tethered, uncertain exactly what the future would hold. He seemed glad to share this milestone with someone, his last official day as a public schoolteacher. By the time I got off the subway I knew that conversation was more important than any of the prayer chitchat that would have taken place. “Hi, God,” you say, and God comes in the form of a friend who needs to talk.
Known by millions as the executive editor of Guideposts magazine, Rick Hamlin has written several books including Reading Between the Lines, his memoir Finding God on the A Train, and several novels. A contributor to Daily Guideposts since 1985 and an active blogger about prayer at guideposts.org, Rick currently lives in New York City with his wife, Carol. This article is excerpted from his new book, 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without: How to Talk to God About Anything (Guideposts Books 2013).