Psalm 63 (NIV, 1984) is one of my favorite psalms—but only the first eight verses. I must admit I stop reading there. I have memorized these verses and often make them my prayer or my meditation. For me, this psalm contains and highlights the goodness of God and helps me focus on him rather than on myself or my problems. I hope you find this psalm as inspiring as I have.

“O God, you are my God.” Only you are my God, not money or fame or any of the glittering idols this world offers. Help me be more single-minded in my devotion to you.

“Earnestly I seek you.” Help me desire and seek you more than anything my fickle heart wants.

“My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.” I need and enjoy you. Please give me a stronger desire to spend time with you in prayer and in your Word and remind me simply to enjoy your presence.

“In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” This world is like a dried up leaf, in great need of your healing, soothing balm. I get dry too; lead me to the river of your Spirit and quench my thirst.

“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” When I look at the moon and stars and gaze on the beauties of nature, I am in awe of your majesty, power and glory.

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” Nothing is better or stronger than your unconditional love. I have experienced your love and grace and know you will never leave me or stop loving me.

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” You deserve continual praise; I lift up my face to receive your blessings and lift my hands in surrender to your love.

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” You and your goodness are a feast for my weary soul; you fill me up with heavenly delights and satisfy me as only you can—with yourself.

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” You watch over me as I sleep; when I awake, you are there. I am always in your tender loving care and feel your loving kiss on my cheek as you sing me back to sleep.

“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” I have nothing to fear from my safe place near your heart.

“My soul clings to you.” I hold on as tightly as I can. Help me never let you go.

“Your right hand upholds me.” Thank you for holding me with the ferocious love that went to the cross for me. Amen.

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“Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness” (Ephesians 6:23, NLT).

English: The apostle paul reading by candlelig...

Prayer is how Christians participate in the relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. It is as easy as simply talking to him, but sometimes, especially when praying for people in difficult situations, we find ourselves at a loss for words. In this short prayer, tacked on to the end of Ephesians, Paul gives us not only a sample prayer but insight into the heart of God.

God is love (1 John 4) and he is faithful. Because we know this about him and we know he hears us when we pray, asking him for love with faith is a prayer he will always answer. We all need both, so we can pray this for others and ourselves in any and every situation with complete confidence. God doesn’t withhold himself from us but is eager to share and help us through life with these and every fruit of the Spirit—and all we have to do is ask. I’m sure Paul wouldn’t mind if we echo and even copy his prayers. They are timeless, insightful and reflective of God’s heart for us.

When Star Trek Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise points his finger at the view screen on the command deck and says “Engage!” the whole spaceship springs into action. The navigator sets the course, the engines come to life, the crew occupies their stations and the ship speeds away to some faraway destination and a new adventure. With that one word, a huge vessel and hundreds of people go into motion.

We use the same word to describe someone fully involved in an endeavor or a conversation. If you’re engaged in conversation, you are in the moment with the person, looking in his or her eyes, listening intently and even physically expressing yourself with gestures and facial animation.

Being fully engaged in a relationship means being with the person in every way—mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Sometimes relationships aren’t easy, but we can understand how they work on the human level. With God, it’s a bit more difficult. How can we be fully engaged with someone we can’t see, hear or touch?

The usual methods of connecting with God are prayer, Bible study, meditation and the various other spiritual disciplines. But it’s possible to do those things and still not be fully engaged with God.

If all we do is talk during our prayers and don’t pause to listen, we might as well be talking to ourselves in a one-sided conversation. If we read the Scriptures without considering what God may be saying to us personally, it becomes a collection of interesting stories. If we see him as a casual observer in our lives, who only checks in occasionally to see if we are toeing the line, God becomes like a distant relative we don’t know well and perhaps even fear. We certainly don’t relish his visits.

Engaging with God in a meaningful relationship isn’t a weekend thing or a morning quiet time encounter we forget about for the rest of the day. We engage 24-7 with him, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically (we honor him with our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit) as we get to know him better and grow in grace and understanding, which is a lifetime journey. That’s why it’s called practicing his presence. Some days we’ll do better than others, but as long as our faces are set toward him, we’ll be moving in the right direction.

The disciplines are still the foundation of spiritual formation. They help us learn to be continually aware of his presence. Our one-sided conversations turn into listening prayer, with times of silence and reflection. Lectio divina, an expanded way ofreading the Bible (praying, reading, silence, journaling and more reading, silence and more prayer), turns our relationship with God into a deep meeting of the minds.

We don’t have to worry about whether or not God is pleased with our progress. As a loving dad is happy with each baby step of his child, our heavenly Father is happy with our baby steps as well. His grace permeates everything we do and teaches us to be more fully engaged with him.

Engage! And may his grace be with us all.

“And when he prayed, the Lord listened to him and was moved by his request. So the Lord brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh finally realized that the Lord alone is God!” (2 Chronicles 33:13, NLT).

A common misconception about Christians is they are more concerned about following rules than about people’s feelings. All you have to do is watch movies or television shows featuring stern, beady-eyed, narrow-minded, my-way-or-the-highway religious zealots to learn how Christians are viewed today. As a result, God is seen in a similar light—unbending, unyielding and inflexible.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus, the perfect reflection of God the Father, was moved to tears on many occasions. His compassion was well known among the people who followed him,  heard him, talked to him and were healed by him. His compassion didn’t start in the New Testament, however. The God who shed tears as he healed the sick and brought the dead back to life in the early first century is the same God who was moved by the prayers of Manasseh. He is the same today. He feels our pain, suffers with us and will one day wipe the tears and do away with our sorrow. He cares like no other.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, NLT).

Even though prayer is as simple as talking to God, misconceptions and superstitions about it abound. One in particular goes away in light of this verse: we must pray to release God’s power and working in our lives. To believe we are the ones holding him back from doing anything because of the inadequacy of our prayers or even the lack of prayer is to limit God in an arrogant, self-righteous way.

God’s power doesn’t need to be released! Using prayer as a magic formula puts the responsibility on us and puts him in a bad light to those who don’t know him. He can do infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine; he blesses us more than we know or would dare to ask and he is not limited by our weak, puny prayers. And that’s why he gets all the glory!

“As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength (Psalm 138:3, NLT).

Many have wrong ideas about prayer. Some see God as Santa Claus, who watches to see if you’re behaving or not and answers accordingly. Others see him as a big vending machine. If you say and do the right things, what you want slides through the slot. Still others think of him as a cosmic butler, ready to do their bidding. Of course, when the prayed for answers don’t materialize, they blame him and get angry or turn away.

God is none of these. Prayer doesn’t work like that. It’s not a way to get things and God isn’t keeping a list of who’s naughty or nice. He does answer, just not always in ways we want or anticipate. He answers with himself. He gives us the assurance he is with us and on our side. He leads us beside the calm waters and restores our soul (Psalm 23). In solitude and silence, wait for him and enjoy his presence, which is worth so much more than anything else we could ask for.

“My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming’ (Psalm 27:8, NLT).

Is God distant and aloof? Some think so, or at least tell themselves he is so they can justify keeping their distance. Just like the Israelites who told Moses not to let God come too close to them, many, including Christians, are a bit uncomfortable with a God who knows all about them and might start meddling in their affairs.

God does want to be involved in our lives but not because he wants to control us or keep us from having fun. He wants to be in relationship with us, just as Father, Son and Spirit are in relationship. It’s about knowing each other intimately, sharing the joyful moments as well as the sad and growing in love and grace. God is a friend who has given us a standing invitation—whose door is always open, who always has a fresh pot of coffee (or tea in my case) and some nice chocolate and is ready to sit down and chat.