Here are some of the things I do to grow regularly with God. Note that I'm not preaching this, nor do I do these all of the time. My spiritual practices change and evolve as the spirit directs, as they should. I'm sharing these ideas in case any of them catch your attention.
The early morning hours, 2-3 hours before dawn, are a sacred time of the day. The veil seems to be thinner then. Revelation and spiritual change comes more easily. I like to make God my alarm clock, and often He wakes me up around 4-5 am for time with Him. During this time I read the scriptures and my journal, ponder the things God is teaching me, re-commit myself as His disciple, pray and pray and pray and listen, then act on His directions.
I especially like adding The Church of Jesus Christ temple ordinances to my mornings. They allow God to take me deeper into my commitment to Him and receive more of His promised blessings.Return to the top
In Moving Mountains, John Eldredge says some prayers work, some don't. I've found this to be true as well. Prayers where my words don't match what is really in my heart -- prayers without intent -- don't do much. Praying without specifics, such as vague "bless this food" prayers, also aren't as effective as they could be. I judge the effectiveness of my prayers by whether and how much I feel the spirit. I often try different topics or types of prayers until I feel the spirit. Then, as I pray, I turn my attention and my words in whatever direction sustains or increases the spirit. It feels a lot like searching for Easter eggs while the spirit tells me "hotter" or "colder."
I pray morning, night, and before meals. I also try to pray always in my heart and mind. When I suffered from incessant chronic physical pain and needed relief from God it was easy to do so. I had a constant, effective reminder! Without that reminder, I'm not as successful. But I try. I also try to go to my knees as soon as something troubling comes up. In fact, at one point, when I was repenting to become clean every whit, I developed callouses on my knees! Apparently the apostle Paul had those too. I'm in good company.
Over the years I've noticed different types of prayers. An incomplete list of these prayer types follows. I switch among these when I'm seeking out the spirit in prayer.
- PRAISING GOD thanking God, or repeating back to God things He has taught me and done for me.
- POURING OUT MY HEART in the realest, rawest, deepest, most personal way. The way a young child shares or cries.
- REPENTING. Especially starting with questions like, "What's blocking me from You?," "Of what do I need to repent?," "What lack I yet?," "Jesus, I invite you into me/this situation/this part of my heart or soul. Please heal me," "Reveal to me what I'm doing and how I can do it Your way. Enlighten my mind," or "God, how would You have me act?"
- CO-CREATING with God. This usually begins with me asking God what He wants for my situation, experience, relationships, or choices. Then I visualize or imagine His goal as clearly as possible with as many details as possible. I change my ideas as needed in order to feel the spirit so that eventually I have a clear idea of what God wants. Then I follow the spirit in asking God to create that vision and learning my part in bringing it to pass.
- ALIGNING MY WILL with God, becoming one with God. This type of prayer involves a lot of sincere yearning such as, "God, I want to be one with You," "I want to be like You," "Change me to be more like You," "I receive everything You are giving me (even the unpleasant thing happening in my life right now!), with joy and gratitude," "I love You and Your ways. Teach me more," "Expand my mind, open my ears, open my eyes. I open my heart completely to You. Please change me according to Your will," "Send/empower Your angels to do Your will in my soul, mind, heart and life," "I open every part of myself to You. Fill me with Your spirit."
- Variations on THE LORD'S PRAYER. I love The Lord's Prayer! Each phrase contains truth, and when all else fails, praying through the Lord's prayer can usually loosen up whatever is blocking the spirit. For example, starting with "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name." I might pray, "Heavenly Father. My Father. I love You. I honor You. I worship You. I want to be like You. You have all power, in heaven and on earth. You are kind, loving, just and merciful. You created me. You want what's best for me, and I trust You completely."
- Praying IN THE SPIRIT. This is my goal in every prayer, but I don't manage it in every prayer. It's when I'm feeling the spirit enough that the spirit is leading my prayer, and everything I pray is given to me by the spirit, and the spirit is strong and I find myself saying beautiful things that I never think of on my own. These prayers WORK! They are powerful, with huge results. As in, miraculous results. They change people, circumstances, me and the world around me.
After listening to Elder Bednar's General Conference address in Oct. 2020, I began reviewing my journal regularly. I intend to review at the end of each day (during my nighttime prayers), at the end of each week (on Sunday), and at the end of each month (while I am on my period). I write the highlights, major revelations, and spiritual landmarks on the first page of my journal, like a table of contents. This has been awesome for learning more and for sinking God's work deeper into my soul!Return to the top
- Eliminating "should" and "have to." Instead of "I should buy groceries" or "I have to go to the store," I say, "I want to go the store today," "I'm going grocery shopping," or "I get to buy food."
- Using positive instead of negative statements. Instead of "Don't run in the street," I say "Stay on the sidewalk."
- Saying "I feel" instead of "I am" to share emotions, particularly negative ones. Instead of "I'm afraid," I say, "I feel afraid."
I'm discovering that faith, like love, is a choice. It's not something I feel, it's not something that happens to me. It's something I choose. This is empowering! It means there is action I can take to receive the benefits of faith in my life. I can choose faith instead of doubt. I can choose faith instead of fear. I can choose love instead of apathy, enmity, or envy. And when I need more faith (for a miracle perhaps!) I can ask God to give it to me, and I can choose to receive, keep, and guard his gift.
It is the Savior who makes this possible. He makes it possible for me to choose and Him to save. I choose faith, He gives it to me. I choose faith instead of doubt or fear, and He changes me. What good news! What joy and redemption! Remembering this principle makes it possible for me to grow with God with a lot less wailing and a lot more peace.Return to the top
Obedience & Sacrifice
One day I chose to obey God's spirit always. My commitment was thorough; it permeated all of me. I even committed to obey regardless of the sacrifice or suffering God asked of me. I was completely done with living life on my own, with following my own desires and my own attempts at creating a meaningful existence. I fully intended to do every single thing God ever asked, no matter how hard it was and no matter how much it hurt. I've kept that promise. When He asked for something I wasn't willing to do, I worked with God until I changed.
And miracles followed. The power of God was unlocked in my life. Two-way relationship with God soared, swelled, and magnified. Life with God has been super hard -- He has asked many things of me that required both sacrifice and suffering. AND, it has been better in every way, x100. I have never had cause to regret my commitment. In fact, I'm thrilled to be living this life rather than the self-led one I lived before. It is so much better in every way.
This means that God runs everything in my life. He gets to choose what I do each day. What I buy. Who I talk to and when. One day I gave him my alarm clock; I made God responsible for waking me up in the morning, and I committed to get out of bed when He calls. Another day I gave Him my relationships. I chose to say and do whatever He directed, instead of what I thought was best, even if it meant losing someone I cared for or receiving someone's condemnation. Another day I gave Him my money.
I've lost a lot. I've gained much more than I've lost.
There's a way to baby step into complete commitment, and it's actually pretty simple... yet also difficult in its subtlety. The way is this: obey the promptings of the spirit. Every one. The subtlety comes in recognizing the prompting. An attention grabber for me is when a thought comes into my mind, such as "Go grocery shopping this afternoon" followed by an immediate reasonable argument, "No, I already went two days ago." When I notice that pattern, interrupt it, and obey the initial impulse, I discover that God was the one giving the initial directive.Return to the top
In Sept. 2017 Jesus healed me of PTSD, sexual trauma, and chronic hip pain. It was purely miraculous. His healing began with a directive: repent of blaming myself for something that happened when I was very young. I tried, but couldn't succeed. I asked Jesus to help, and with the encouragement of a friend, I continued to try long past the time when I normally would have given up. After about 30 minutes of continuous, seemingly-useless trying, Jesus broke the self blame loose. I felt it release out of my body and my body filled with the spirit of the Lord. It was the strongest spirit I'd ever felt at that time, and it washed my body clean. I walked away from that experience feeling clean, and also free of panic attacks and hip pain. It was life changing.
In the days that followed I felt sin lodge in my body like a little chain link binding up my cells and blocking them from the spirit of God. Desperate to retain the cleanliness of God's miracle, I repented with intensity. I discovered that I sinned every few minutes. Usually it was tiny thoughts, "Ug, I shouldn't have done that," "I wish my kids would stop!," or "Really?!?" They lodged in my soul and cluttered me up.
I fought for my soul in the weeks after that miracle. In addition to the tiny thoughts, huge temptations of self blame assaulted me throughout the day. I found myself repenting most of each day. It took great strength, and praying until my knees were calloused, to come out of that season with God's miracle intact.
Here are my strategies for repenting:
- Remember, I choose what I want to change, and Jesus Christ makes it happen. For example, my job is to decide if I want to believe "I screwed up" (self blame) or if I want to believe God (ask Him what He says about it, and go from there). Once I choose, I ask Jesus to fix it, -- take away the sin, and fill me with a new belief/action instead. Sometimes I also need to ask forgiveness from God, from myself, or from others. I do this formally, with intent; I believe intentional words have binding spiritual power. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus fixes it!!! And forgiveness breaks unholy bonds. I don't have to do it, which is good because I can't. I just need to believe in Christ, choose, and obey His directions.
- Often Jesus wants me to see the sin clearly before He takes it away. I assume this is so that repentance can be lasting and not temporary. Usually seeing clearly means asking God, "Show me how You see this. Reveal it to me." I talk with Him about the sin and I visualize the holy choice I could have made instead, following the revision of the spirit until I fully understand. For example, maybe I believe I said the wrong thing to someone and I need to repent of being rude. But God will tell me I condemned myself when I was following the spirit, and I need to repent of self-condemnation and disbelieving Him.
- Another thing that helps is to identify the root of the sin and repent of that. This means identifying my motivation, perhaps fear, doubt, shame, pride, condemnation, despair, or distrust. When I reject these tools of the adversary, I repent of categories of sin instead of specifics. Self blame and fearing what other people say is probably pride based -- caring about how other people perceive me and getting my validation from something other than God. Worrying or obsessing about finances, events, or relationships can be fear based. Identifying and repenting of the root emotion has allowed me see temptations when they are still just temptations, cleansing myself of whole categories of sin.
- Often when I repent of something current, especially something that shows up as a habitual sin -- perhaps emotional eating -- a memory surfaces. Allow that memory to come up! Let the spirit bring it all the way back to consciousness, including the painful emotions from that time. This is not a comfortable process, but it is a productive one! I invite Jesus into the memory, and into the places inside me affected by it. He heals the original sin and the sins built on top of it. Then I become truly free. After that, the temptation to commit that habitual sin loses its power over me.
I've come to see each day as a "Groundhog Day." Do you remember how, in the 1993 movie, Bill Murray relives the same day, Groundhog Day, day after day after day? The repetition only ends once he learns compassion and sacrifice. I think our days are like that. To us there are Mondays and March 11ths. But to God it's a lifetime of do-overs, or a lifetime of learning to live the way He does. We reset and try again day after day after day.
So I've begun asking God each evening for a goal for the following day which I record in my journal. I like the pattern in Genesis, where a "day" is a night first, followed by a day. Thus striving for His daily goal begins in my nighttime prayers by praying for angels to help me and to do His will in my life, and then climbing into bed. I remind myself of the goal during morning spiritual time, and then I do my best. That evening in prayer I review my progress with God. Then I ask for my next goal. And repeat.
I've had profound experiences following this pattern.
You know those random thoughts that pass through your mind? Things like, "I wonder how my sister's doing?," "What about going to the store today," "Was that spiritual experience real, or did I just make it up?," "What if something terrible happens?," "Hurry! I'm going to miss out!," or "I always mess that up." I used to think these were my own thoughts, but as I've grown with God I've discovered most of them aren't! Some of these thoughts come from the spirit. Others come from God's enemy, the adversary. Knowing the difference and choosing to hear, receive (believe), and act on truth is what life is all about!
My first rule of thumb is to ask God. I notice a thought and then I pray, "Father, I just 'heard' (or 'thought') to check on my sister. Do You want me to check in with her?" If I can't discern a clear answer, I try on other questions, "Did that thought come from you? Is it from the adversary? Do you want me to leave her alone today?" When I feel the spirit, it's a "Yes" to the question I just asked, and I obey accordingly. If I don't feel the spirit, I do what it takes to feel the spirit, and then I ask about the original thought again. If I still don't get an answer and the thought aligns with scripture, then I tell God I'm going to act on it because I believe it is from Him. I ask Him to stop me if it isn't His will, and then I act. It helps to report back to God after acting in order to get further direction, such as confirmation that I did in fact do His will or correction and greater understanding.
As I've done this over the years, I've come to identify the source of my thoughts with increasing clarity.
There's another level of identifying and regulating my thoughts, of cultivating a firm mind. It is aligning my mind and my beliefs with truth and then carefully guarding that truth. False beliefs limit God's power in our souls. True beliefs bind us to Him. And so God's enemy is constantly telling us lies, and we have power to choose what to believe. I like this invitation from President Russel M. Nelson to seek Pure Truth, along with this invitation to nurture your testimony (your faith) with truth.
The thing is, the adversary's lies show up as if they were my own thoughts. I can reecive the lies (accept them, adopt them, internalize them, believe them), or I can ask Jesus to correct them and receive truth. So much is possible when I believe eternal truth! It reminds me of the way understanding gravity and aerodynamics makes flight and space flight possible.
I learn truth from scriptures, prophets, and personal revelation. I also find truth other places, just like the Prophet Joseph Smith taught ("If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things," Articles of Faith 1:13). At one point the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy helped me identify a number of false beliefs that were getting in my way with God, such as a subtle doubt about whether God gives me good gifts (doubting His disposition) or whether he can/will heal me (doubting His power). Mary is the founder of Christian Science and wrote this book after she was miraculously healed by God in order to share the principles that enabled her healing.
Here are some of my game-changing true beliefs:
- God wants to heal me.
- God always answers my prayers.
- Above all else, God wants my eternal salvation and exaltation.
- My job is to choose what I want, Jesus's job is to change my nature.
- Most people's hearts are good.
After carefully identifying and adopting true thinking, I am vigilant about keeping those true beliefs firm in my mind. Many scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ emphasize this idea, teaching to keep a firm mind (Jacob 3:2, Alma 57:27), watch your thoughts (Mosiah 4:30), and be believing and doubt not (Mormon 9:27, Alma 56:47-48).
Keeping a firm mind means correcting every false thought that flits through it. For example, just this morning, as I rolled over in bed, I "heard" (others would say "thought"): "Maybe I can't hear from God right now." And so right away I said (in my mind, or out loud if needed): "No. I can hear from God, always." Or, I might hear, "My kids aren't learning anything. I'm failing at homeschooling." And so immediately I answer, "No. I am following God in homeschooling. God will correct me when correction is needed." When Chris and I have conflicts I hear, "Chris is lazy! He doesn't care." And I correct, "No. Chris' heart is good for me. There must be something in the way." In fact, I regularly (daily) hear and correct the following:
- "I'm going to lose all my friends."
- "No. I'm going to follow God. I consecrate my friendships to God. He is in charge of what happens."
- "I testify like I know, but do I really know? What if I'm wrong?"
- "No. I testify my truth. I will correct when God corrects me. Even if I can't feel it now, I have many evidences and experiences that fuel my conviction."
- "Who do I think I am? I have no right to step forward and shine."
- "No. It is right serve God with the gifts He has given me. I will do what I was born to do."
- "I must be crazy."
- "No. I have evidence that I am clear thinking and reasonable. I am following God, and 'Faithfulness is not foolishness nor fanaticism' (Elder Bednar, "We Will Prove Them Herewith," Oct 2020)."
It's a simple practice, though it was difficult to train into. It is VITAL for keeping my mind firm in faith.
And oh, keeping a firm mind is vital for my marriage too! I've learned that marital conflicts (really all conflicts) are between me and God's enemy, not me and one of God's children. When I keep this perspective in a firm mind I respond differently to my husband. I stay vigilant about rejecting the lies that come into my mind (rejecting "thoughts" like, "He doesn't care," "I married the wrong person," "We're just different from each other.") And I go after the lies that are getting in the way of our agreement. Our conflict becomes a united battle against lies, rather than a battle against each other.
Slowly I have purified my life by eliminating everything that gets in the way of God. This is not to "be more righteous." It is a natural consequence of wanting more of God and of wanting the lightness and joy of a clean soul.
At this point my lifestyle truly is unusual. We don't watch TV, we avoid most of the news. We don't eat junk food. We don't seek entertainment. We recreate when God prompts us to, perhaps a family game, hike, playing together in the yard, or once in awhile a carefully chosen movie. More often, God prompts us to serve someone or create something beneficial instead. We don't hang out with friends; we seek opportunities to lift and grow with them instead. We avoid busyness, and working out at the gym. We turned off phone notifications and we restrict phone usage.
I don't recommend changing all that at once, and sometimes I'm truly astounded at how differently I live compared to my lifestyle ten years ago. But eliminating the bad things, and then even the good and better things, in exchange for the very best things has been fantastically rewarding.Return to the top