Monday, November 19, 2007

On Doing Prayer

TIME FOR PRAYER:

Leisure time is a strange phenomenon. While we seek a break from activity through rest and relaxation, how easily we fill that time with activity. Free time is really not as free as it could be. I’ve not been on a cruise before, but I hear they are the most tiring vacations on the planet because people are kept so busy. It takes me a couple of days just to rest from a regular vacation!

If we were to make a list of all things we could do in our free time (TV, movies, internet, sports, reading, yard work, etc.), where would prayer fall in the list? Is prayer a “free time” activity? My main problem with effectual prayer is that, for some reason, I have allowed it to migrate out of meaningful conversation with the Most Supreme, High and Holy God Who Reigns Above All, to a free-time activity. I struggle with prayer time because I am too busy. This makes prayer an optional activity, doesn’t it? Martin Luther did not think so. He is quoted to say that he had so much to do in one day that he had to get up three hours earlier to pray!

Think with me on this: does it matter if I am a morning person or an evening person? I have to get up and go to work, whether I am a morning person or an evening person. I have my husbandly and fatherly responsibilities regardless if I am a morning or an evening person. You see how this goes. Why should my prayer life depend on my morning or evening level of alertness? If my phone rings at my desk while my first cup of coffee is still brewing, I must answer it and converse with whoever is calling. I believe God wants us at our best and our worst.

Imagine you are in a dark night, in a tight spot and in deep waters. Will you wait for morning or evening to pray? Consider Jonah. Did he catch a glimpse out the whale’s blowhole for a glimpse of the morning or setting sun before he prayed? Was he in a good mood when he prayed? If a prayer of desperation is timeless because prayer itself is timeless, why wait to pray?

Here’s a HUGE “what if”: what if God was a morning person to your evening person? Ridiculous, I know. Since He is the all-time person, remind me again why we treat prayer according to our preference? And what happens if we “miss?” Wait for the clock to cycle around again? “Sorry, God, I missed prayer time. I’ll make it up tomorrow.”

Our hearts are set on God, or not at all.

ON BREATHING AND PRAYER:

Often the illustration is given that prayer is like breathing. I believe that prayer is less about the “act” of breathing (“in” and “out”; “talking” and “listening”) and is more about the “what” of breathing. Do we live because we breathe, or do we survive because of what we breathe? In order to live we need air and air must be breathed. I can inhale and exhale underwater but that does not mean I will continue to live. If we fail to breathe, life gets interesting because we are missing one vital element of survival, then we gasp out of desperation to do regain that which we deprived ourselves. If we follow the analogy and say that prayer is the activity then prayer is a presumption on God, like presuming that oxygen must exist because I breathe. “Continual, persistent, incessant prayer is an essential part of Christian living and flows out of dependence on God.”[i] In other words, God is the environment (in Him we live, move and have our being), therefore we must pray.

Prayer is the Christian way of life. “Every prayerless day is a statement by a helpless individual, ‘I do not need God today.’ Failing to pray reflects idolatry —a trust in substitutes for God. We rely on our money instead of God’s provision. We rest on our own flawed thinking rather than on God’s perfect wisdom. We take charge of our lives rather than trusting God. Prayerlessness short-circuits the working of God. Neglecting prayer, therefore, is not a weakness; it is a sinful choice.”[ii] Prayerlessness is practical humanism.

Hudson Taylor admonishes, “If we want to see mighty works of Divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, ‘Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know’” (Jeremiah 33:3).

Test yourself: when do you breathe best, morning or evening?

BREATHE WITHOUT CEASING:

What do you think of when you hear or read, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)? I think of regular, persistent breathing. Here is Matthew Henry’s golden nugget, “The meaning is not that men should do nothing but pray, but that nothing else we do should hinder prayer in its proper season. Prayer will help forward and not hinder all other lawful business, and every good work.”[iii]

Paul instructed the Ephesians on the wide range and deep depths of prayer, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). This refers to 1) variety of prayer (“all prayer and supplication”); 2) the frequency of prayer (“always”) 3) submission to the will of God in prayer (“in the Spirit”); 4) the manner of prayer (“be on the alert”); 5) the persistence of prayer (“all perseverance”); and 6) the objects of prayer (“all saints”). [iv] Prayer is the necessary involvement of fellowship with our Great God and Savior.

“I think of praying at all times as living in continual God-consciousness, where everything we see and experience becomes a kind of prayer, lived in deep awareness of and surrender to our Heavenly Father. . . . Thus life becomes a continually ascending prayer: all life’s thoughts, deeds, and circumstances become an opportunity to commune with our Heavenly Father.”[v]

************

[i]MacArthur, John. Alone With God. Includes indexes. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1995.
[ii] Comfort, Ray. “Prayer.” School of Biblical Evangelism.
[iii]Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, 1 Th 5:16. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991.
[iv]MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed., Eph 6:18. Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997.
[v]MacArthur, John. Alone With God. Ibid.

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