I come to my prayer corner early every morning. I sink down into my prayer chair. I always come with some measure of restlessness, some yearning of soul. If I did not come with a needy soul, I suspect I would not return very often. I desperately need this prayer. To pray one must take measure of the curse of self-sufficiency. We feel our brokenness. Yes, humility is required before something can happen in the prayer corner.

And so I do some reading first. I dip into some kind of devotional reading, sometimes the classic mystics and contemplatives, sometimes the great apologists like C. S. Lewis or G. K. Chesterton, sometimes contemporary explorers in the land of the holy. I read slowly.

And then, whatever else I have read, I read the Psalms, always the Psalms first from Scriptures. Readers have done this for millennia. In the Psalms I find that same restless soul I am feeling, but then, almost always, the yearning Psalmist begins to sense a loving God coming near.

After this meditative reading of the Scriptures, lectio divina I am learning to call it, I close my eyes, straighten my back, and breathe. I repeat a word or phrase and  begin to breathe deeply, rhythmically. I let the thoughts come and go. I don’t chase them. I don’t try to solve anything. I don’t even imagine that God is approaching. And then, sometimes, my chattering mind grows quiet and I know God is coming near. Silence happens. Problems dissolve, at least for the moment. It is just amazing what happens in my small prayer corner. God does come near.

Just this morning I read Psalm 116, perhaps a kind of primer for prayer. The Psalmist begins:

I love the Lord, for he has heard me
and listened to my prayer;
he has given me a hearing
and all my days I shall cry to him.

First there is this note of deep gratitude, worship really. We love the Lord because we came to our prayer corner with yearning—and he gave us “a hearing.” Just think about it: God is listening. This gives me confidence to keep coming back “all my days.” We begin the discipline of prayer with love and gratitude and confidence.

Then the poem shifts slightly:

Anguish and torment held me fast;
then I invoked the Lord by name,
“Lord, deliver me, I pray.”

Do I really know “anguish and torment”? Well, that sounds a little exaggerated, but I know what this feels like. Whatever the troubles or doubts or self-incriminations, we are all anguished. We are sometimes tormented, in our lives, for our world. That’s when we invoke “the Lord by name.” Reverently but boldly we cry out in our anguish: “Lord, deliver me, I pray.” Here we are introduced to the next part prayer: An anguished plea to be delivered.

But then, we can be sure, this Lord “preserves the simple-hearted.” That’s me, I say. Glad to be included. Yes, “when I was brought low, he saved me.” This God of compassion will respond even to my simple-hearted self when I cry out. Isn’t that remarkable? Isn’t that encouraging?

And then the Psalmist talks, simply and beautifully, to his heart:

My heart, be at peace once more,
for the Lord has granted you full deliverance.

We are delivered, because, oh God,

You have rescued me from death,
my eyes from weeping,
my feet from stumbling.

The Psalms almost always bring us to this resting place of fullness. This is what happens in our prayer corners. I rest—that was Augustine’s word—finally in the promise that the Lord will rescue me from weeping and stumbling and a restless heart.

As I get up out of my prayer chair and walk into my day, I am changed. Oh, I don’t want to get sappy about it, because surely nothing ecstatic has happened. And I know the troubles will return. But something has happened. I am changed, and because I am changed,

I shall walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.

I have been given new eyes to see, new perspective, new life. I no long have to walk through my day like a dead man, blinded by restlessness, smothered by self-focus. I can walk “in the land of the living,” encountering God’s loving presence every step of the way. That’s the promise. And it works.

Amazing things do happen when I sit down in my prayer corner.