“Our greatest claim to nobility is our created capacity to know God, to be in personal relationship with him, to love him and to worship him. Indeed, we are most truly human when we are on our knees before our Creator.” - John Stott
I came across this quote during the week while reading the book for our Sunday school lesson as I prepared to come to class this week. We are using The Gospel Project from Lifeway, and we are studying about “The God Who Is” this month. Very encouraging discussions, and I’m thankful for this class and the people I get to join with each week.
While thinking about prayer, I think it may be one aspect of the Christian life that I’m not sure I’ve always understood or practiced as well as I want to. I’m catching up on old podcasts as I’m quite behind after the whirlwind summer we’ve had so far, and I was listening to Alistair Begg teaching a sermon he called, “Lessons From the Flyleaf of My Bible,” and he made a comment about how he suspected many of us would be embarrassed for others to know how little we actually prayed. I think that’s probably true. I know that for me, I don’t find it hard to be faithful to read my Bible daily anymore. That has become a joy and a comfort and I look forward to it, and often I do pray as I read, but honestly, I have not been as diligent to set aside time daily to really labor in prayer, calling out to God fervently, if you know what I mean.
In the past few years there have been controversies and disturbing trends about so-called prayer techniques and contemplative practices and ‘spiritual formation’, that I do not endorse or think are appropriate or even biblical. I think I understand the motivation behind some of it, at least from some well-meaning people I’ve known, in that we all know we need to be praying and we want to experience a relationship with our Creator. Because we find prayer kind of mysterious and often difficult, yet knowing it is vital, I think we are always looking for SOMETHING that will spur us to the ‘next level’ of being a praying people. But I think those methodologies and man-made approaches to look within and use of creative props and whatnot are not the answer. I think many of us have a fundamental misunderstanding of how to pray and what prayer is. We come to prayer meetings and bring our laundry list of requests that focus mostly on temporal concerns, and we expect to feel something immediately and we expect prayer to come naturally. The thing is, it doesn’t always.
I heard once that there was a Puritan saying, “Pray until you pray!” I tried looking it up and came across this blog post that sums up what I’m wanting to get at here pretty well, I think. I think the sentiment behind that exhortation is that prayer is not an easy, quick thing. It takes some work. You have to pray long enough, purposefully enough, fervently enough that you move beyond checking a box that says, “Well, I said my prayers, done with that ritual, on with the day,” you move beyond the merely formalistic notions of prayer, the initial inertia that if you’re anything like I am which is sometimes hard to overcome, and get to the point where you are actually crying out to God in a purposeful, meaningful way.
One thing I have found is that when I first bow to pray, I often have a hard time settling down and praying with a purpose. I find myself thinking about anything and everything that can distract me away from prayer, and rambling, and even sometimes wandering to where I at some point come back to it and think, “What have I been saying? Am I even connecting with what I’m thinking and saying here?” I have found a tool that, for me, has been very helpful in ordering my thinking as I go to pray. I received a book called, A Way to Pray by Matthew Henry, some time back from Alistair Begg’s ministry, Truth for Life, and I’m finding it to be helpful in teaching me what kinds of things to pray as I work through it. It’s divided into helpful sections like praise, confession, petition, and some others, and I don’t read it straight through, but I have markers in each category and I usually take a short section from each and pray through that, which informs my thinking in such a way that I am often able to springboard into praying about more specific things that pertain to what I need to be praying about. What I like most about the book is that it basically takes scripture and writes the prayers using scripture, so I am not praying random rambling thoughts, but Bible saturated prayers, and as I spring from there, my thinking is clarified and I am much more able to pray effectively - when I am disciplined enough to use it, that is. Because, ultimately, I want to pray prayers that please God, that I can truly say, "In Jesus' Name," as I pray. Prayer really isn't about how I feel, but to Whom am I praying.
Anyway, I just thought that it might be good to share this resource that has helped me, and I pray I will diligently seek Him in prayer as I continue to grow in Christ.