Notes From My Prayer Journal – Part II

In my last article I mentioned that I wanted to make 2016 my year of prayer. I did so in part to renew my own prayer life but also to learn more about prayer. All of us began our journey in the school of prayer as learners rather than experts. At some point along the way we all faced certain nagging questions: Is God really listening? If God knows everything, what’s the point of me telling Him something He already knows? Does prayer really make a difference? Why would He seemingly answer a small trivial prayer and not something really important? Does prayer change God or change me? These questions will eventually come to focus on the one big question: “Why pray?”

There have been gallons of ink spilled trying to answer that question but there is no better answer than simply the example of Jesus – “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray . . .” The Son of God, who knew the wisdom of His heavenly Father above any of us, felt such a strong compelling need to pray that he made it a regular habit of His life. Surely if the Son of God needed to pray how much more do I need to value and practice the act of prayer?

If the example of Jesus is the most compelling answer to the question of why one prays, then it seems to me we can learn something from the prayer life of Jesus. The Gospels record for us over a dozen of His prayers. I believe the prayers He prayed, the times and places He prayed them and the reasons He prayed them offer us remarkable insight into why Jesus prayed and consequently why we should pray.

Why Jesus Prayed

  1. Jesus prayed during times of trouble. The prayers of Jesus in the Wilderness, Gethsemane and on Golgotha represent times of trouble and soul sorrow. The Hebrew writer tells us that, “He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears . . .” (Heb.5:7)

Lesson: Times of great sorrow or personal upheaval fray our emotions, cloud our thinking and challenge our faith. Jesus took these situations to prayer and it was prayer that enabled Him to come through with the attitude and spirit that said, “. . . not my will, but thine, be done.”

Jesus prayed for others. He prayed for children brought to him by their mothers. He prayed for the onlookers at Lazarus tomb. He prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. He prayed for His disciples that they would be “sanctified through the truth.” He prayed for all who would believe on His name. He prayed while hanging on the cross for those who nailed Him there.

Lesson: Prayer should have an “others orientation” to it. Jesus showed a remarkable lack of concern about his own needs. “Take this cup from me” may represent the only time Jesus asked something for himself. We also learn that we can and should take every situation, every person and every need to our Heavenly Father in prayer. We should live in a conversational relationship with God about everything and everyone in our lives.

  1. Jesus used prayer to recharge spiritually. After a long day of exhausting ministry Jesus would escape into the wilderness, only to emerge with a renewed sense of mission, direction and power. “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” Jesus told His disciples. The first chapter of the Gospel of Mark offers amazing insight into a weary Jesus finding personal renewal, clarity of direction and great power to minister after a time of prayer.

Lesson: The Chinese join two characters (heart and killing) to form a single pictograph for their word for busyness. That is stunningly incisive – it is true literally and spiritually. The heart is the place the busy life exacts its steepest toll. Too much work, the British used to say, makes Jack a dull boy. But it’s worse than that. It numbs Jack, parches Jack, and hardens Jack. It kills his heart. When we get too busy we lose something vitally important to the spiritual life. It is the solitude of prayer that allows our hearts to be refreshed, renewed and refocused on the things that really matter. When you choose to retreat to the place of prayer in the middle of all your busyness, you will find that you can work hard and not be destroyed by your failures or your successes.

  1. Jesus prayed before and around momentous or key events. Moments such as: His baptism, the selection of His disciples, His transfiguration on the Mount and before his final redemptive act and return to heaven.

Lesson: The night I was elected President of GBS, Dr. Wingrove Taylor ask me to accompany him to the prayer room in the men’s residence hall. When we arrived, he turned to me and said, “As President of GBS you will have many low moments but you will also have many high moments – moments of great accomplishment. In the low moments turn to God in prayer. But make sure you take the high moments, the great moments, to God in prayer too.”

  1. Jesus prayed just to commune with His Father. The prayers of Jesus reveal a spontaneous communion with the Father that has no precedent anywhere else in scripture. Jesus prayed just to engage in intimate conversation with His Father.

 Lesson: Prayer is the currency of friendship and intimacy with God. God wants to be wanted – enough so that we should be ready, predisposed, to linger in His presence. Dallas Willard says that spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:12)

(To be continued)

Notes From My Prayer Journal – Part I

As I was doing some personal reflection during the final days of 2015, I decided to make 2016 my “year of prayer.” I did so for several reasons.

First, there are those seasons in the soul when one needs a fresh stimulus to pray. I was in one of those seasons. Second, I, along with the school, am facing significant transitions in the coming days-transitions that must have Divine direction. Third, I just wanted to learn more about prayer. I felt like Albert Einstein when a doctoral student at Princeton asked him, “What is there left in the world for original dissertation research?” To which Einstein replied, “Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer.” So rather than an article, I am giving you a peek into my private prayer journal where I am seeking to “find out about prayer.”

My approach is to share a personal observation that relates to a perceived weakness in my prayer life, and then a quote that spoke truth into my life about that particular area of weakness.

Observation #1: Too often when I approach prayer, I get the direction wrong. I quickly start downstream telling God about my concerns, my need of direction, my need of knowing His will, rather than starting upstream where the flow begins. However, when I start upstream, prayer raises my sight beyond the struggles or questions of the moment. It restores my vision to one that more resembles God’s. As I see things from His perspective, my soul is nourished and my faith strengthened.

“An extreme preoccupation with knowing God’s will for me may only indicate that I am over concerned with myself, rather than possessed with a Christlike interest in the well-being of others or in the glory of God.” -Dallas Willard

Observation #2: I often pray back to God the words of the Lord’s Prayer. I stress, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” As I pray this, I am reminded that it takes effort on my part to remember that I am the creature and He is the Creator. The practical application of this means that I must climb down from my own executive chair of control, uncreate the little world I have fashioned, and let God truly be God!

“In a life of participation in God’s kingdom rule, we are not to make things happen, but only to be honestly willing and eager to be made able.”

-Dallas Willard

Observation #3: At times my pray-ers seem so sterile. They are more like the dry repetition of liturgy than a conversation in the presence of my dearest friend. At the heart of this problem is a deficient understanding of how much God longs to talk with me, reveal Himself to me, and have a conversational relationship with me.

“The most staggering thing I have ever learned is that the eternal God-who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-has invited me to enter into conversation with that exclusive group.” -Dennis Kinlaw

“Who one believes God to be is most accurately revealed not in any credo but in the way one speaks to God when no one else is listening.” -Nancy Mairs

We are unceasing spiritual beings, created for an intimate and transforming friendship with the creative Community that is the Trinity.”

-Dallas Willard

Observation #4: Sometimes when I go to the special place of prayer, it seems I am all alone-void of any sense of His presence. At those times my prayers seem particularly inadequate or faltering.

 

“Prayer can seem dull or difficult; though if we give ourselves to it, [it] commonly ends up less dull and less obstructed than it began. Only what is dull or dark or labored on our side is not so on the side of God, who rejoices in every least motion of our good will towards Him; and where we see the merest vestige of His presence, there with cherubim and seraphim and all the host of heaven is He.” –Austin Farrer

“We do not go to a certain place to present our prayers, for He is already with us. We simply turn our attention to Him and acknowledge the prior reality that He has been there all along.” -Dennis Kinlaw

“If we fixate on techniques, or sink into guilt over our inadequate prayers, or turn away in disappointment when I don’t sense His presence, I need to remind myself that prayer is keeping company with God who is already present.” -Philip Yancey

(To be continued)