Thursday, July 25, 2013

Trying to Make Prayer Work

I wrote this post and then I deleted it by accident. So here's the second post. I think it turned out a bit better.

I've found that most Chrisitan know that they are supposed to pray. But I've also found that prayer can be a very frustrating experience. This is especially true when we view prayer as a something we have to make happen. You know the kind of thing that we do by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and we do out of effort and discipline. I've been there, oh so many times. I've prayed ACTS, through the Tabernacle pattern, and by walking through the Lord's prayer. I've journaled my prayers. I've forced myself to get up far too early in the morning. And I've copied the patterns of those held up as prayer warriors. Effort, effort, effort. Trying to make prayer work can be exhausting.

Over the years I've found that prayer can be a joy when I don't focus on trying to make it work. Instead, I allow a different way of praying to arise within me. To explain this, I quote from Prayer by Hans Urs von Balthasar:

"Prayer is dialogue, not man's monologue before God. Ultimately, in any case, there is no such thing as solitary speech; speech implies reciprocity, the exchange of thoughts and of souls, unity in a common spirit, in common possession and sharing of the truth."

"The better a man learns to pray, the more deeply he finds that all his stammering is only an answer to God's speaking to him; this in turn implies that any understanding between God and man must be on the basis of God's language."

"Whatever could we say to God if he himself had not taken the first step in communicating and manifesting himself to us in his word, so that we have access to him and fellowship with him?"

"Prayer is a conversation in which God's word has the initiative and we, for the moment, can be nothing more than listeners. The essential thing is for us to hear God's word and discover from it how to respond to him."

"In contemplating the scripture we learn to to listen properly, and this listening is the original wellspring of all Christian life and prayer."

God spoke through Jesus and the scriptures speak to us. When we allow the words of God to indwell us, they speak through us back to God. They empower our prayers. They enliven our prayers. They draw us up into dialogue with God. We don't so much make prayer happen as we make space for prayer to occur. We pray, but in some ways it's more accurate to say that we participate in prayer. We have to learn to put ourselves in a place where the scriptures teach us to pray. This is why disciplines like scripture meditation, dwelling in the word and lectio divina are so crucial. They take us beyond Bible study where we focus on analyzing and applying. When we slow down to let a specific passage enter into our souls, then we make room to pray that scripture and then live it.

When I was writing Difference Makers, I struggled with the fact that so many of us see difference making or missional living as something we do. It's turned into an action we do for God, or a list of activities that look missional. I wanted to find a way to point readers into an encounter with God so that they might make room to be difference makers and go beyond just doing difference making stuff. Being will include the doing, but doing does not always include the being. So I included reflections exercises that lead the reader to focus on short passages from John 13, 14, or 15. If we make space to pray passages like this, prayer will arise organically. We will change naturally. And we will make a difference because of the overflow of our lives.

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