Sunday, March 5, 2017

Prayer and the Voice of God by Phillip D. Jensen and Tony Payne Part 3

A Whole World At Work...
My husband and I recently began running together. In the dark in the city this morning we completed our 27th run! We’re not going to break any records, but stepping out into that soft darkness, the air faintly purple when we began our running adventure in summer, now the moon and the stars are still out, it’s something else. The birds just waking up, the traffic just the odd rattle instead of the rumble it will be in an hour or so - I notice all these things that I never would have seen before. The girls lifting skinny white canoes out of the boatshed, their oars plunging into the black water. They sail silently underneath me as I run across a bridge. The bootcampers lined up in tunnels punching bags in the dark. The cyclists and runners navigating the narrow path. All the while the sky is gently lightening. There is a whole ‘early morning world’ at work and it’s exciting to behold. It’s for this as much as the extra energy in the day that I’m running for. It’s hard to get up at that hour but it’s worth it to see the world as I never saw it before.

Prayer is like that too. God is always at work. With or without you. He controls the rising and the setting of the sun. He knows what’s on the menu for you today. But it is an absolute privilege to step into the throne room of God and behold him as he works, to have the ear of the maker of the universe. So why do so many christians struggle to have healthy prayer lives? Just like regularly attending church or bible study, regularly praying doesn’t just happen. We have to make it a priority. How can we do that?

Set The Alarm
“Good”, you may be thinking. “At last we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. Enough of the theory and the motivation. Give me some practical advice. Tell me how to do it!” (p.71) Towards the end of the book Jensen and Payne helpfully include practical ideas for building a prayerful habit into our lives. Here are some of them:

Begin Again
Perhaps this comment strikes a chord with you: “My prayer life feels virtually non-existent. I don’t even feel like a Christian anymore. What can I do?” (p. 167) The authors identify that we’re in a fight between spirit and flesh and sometimes the flesh wins this side of heaven. Rather than pat the reader on the back and tell us not to feel too badly about it, they encourage the reader to do something with those feelings of guilt:

Persistent, unrepentant ungodliness will exclude us from the kingdom of God. We cannot and must not presume upon God, thinking that our sin doesn’t matter. We will find out one day, to our cost, that it matters a great deal. We must repent of our prayerlessness and start again. Christianity is a start-again life. (1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.)  (p. 169)

If your prayer life is non-existent, repent and begin again, he is faithful.

Get Support
“Ask a friend to pray for you as you commit yourself to regular personal prayer.” (p.171)
Choose someone you trust (preferably who has been a Christian a little longer than you) who you can be accountable to. Maybe this is someone who you could catch up with once a week and ask each other this question, “How has God shown up for you this week?” (I heard a minister on the NSW south coast ask his congregation this as a regular sharing part of the service and thought it was brilliant.) When you’re in a habit of praying, you’ll begin to notice God at work all the more, and this will encourage you to keep at it. As Oswald Chambers writes, ‘However much we may know God, the great lesson to learn is that at any minute, He may break in.’ (My Utmost For His Highest January 25)

Set Aside A Dedicated Time to Pray On Your Own
Every growing christian can testify to the difference having a dedicated ‘quiet time’ makes in keeping a close walk with God. I remember being a young adult on Beach Mission and hearing another guy say that even though he attended every christian evening group going, church and bible courses, he found it wasn’t until he started having a personal time alone with his bible and in prayer that he began to move forward and grow in confidence and faith in the Lord Jesus. That struck a chord with me. Quiet times matter.

Decide on a regular, achievable pattern and stick to it. The authors recommend doing this for 4-6 weeks and that seems a good amount of time for a new habit to start to stick. I think ‘achievable’ is an important word. Better to be praying for fifteen minutes regularly than have a plan to do it for an hour that never quite happens.

Whilst the authors don’t give specific examples, not wanting to be legalistic, I know some christians who set the alarm and have half an hour on their own in the morning to read the bible and pray through a list. For others, going to bed at 9 instead of 10 five nights a week gives time away from tv and phones to read the bible and pray before they sleep.

Pray Throughout The Day
One of the most helpful things I watched whilst writing this post was John Piper’s Pray throughout the day on youtube. (A praying friend recommended it to me!) It’s a 3 minute video with a big impact and it has reminded me to pray before and after everything and fleshes out for me the author’s point that, “The best time for prayer is any time and at all times.” (p.187) Piper likens prayer to a mobile phone call with God and says start the day with prayer and leave the green button on, don’t press the red button, keep praying to God before and after every phone call, every shower, every tv show, every email, every meal, every run. They can just be short one sentence prayers, make them count, make them God-honouring. He wants the members of his church to be a praying people who convey their heart to God over and over. It’s advice we would do well to follow.

The Noticing Power Of A Journal
I am a lover of journals and I have a pretty incredible collection. But the ones that have gotten the most workout for prayer is a plain exercise book which I use for individual prayer and a yellow hardback one I use for bible study, both of which I purchased from the supermarket. By all means, buy a beautiful moleskine journal or a growing faith reap journal or a matthias media growth groups journal but don’t stop there, use it! Write in it. Write down God’s promises and the people who need your prayers and pray for them. And then, look back at it and reflect.

The author A.S Byatt writes, “It is always surprising how people don’t really look at things.” I think that this has never been truer. Do we really look at a text, at words on a page, at colours, at a situation, at a painting? When was the last time you sat back and reflected on a whole book? As my young son peered over my shoulder while I scrolled furiously through my facebook feed last night, he said, “Slow down, I can’t see anything.” I think looking has been replaced by scanning, we try and do things as quickly as we possibly can and then we crash, exhausted, into the couch and binge-watch the next exciting series on Netflix. Then we check our phone again and fall into bed.

The beauty of keeping a journal for prayer is that it gives you a chance to write out a plan for what you’re going to pray when you have that chunk of time alone with God. God is a planner and so should we be too if we are to do what he commands and be faithful in prayer. As well as being useful in the moment, a prayer journal is a wonderful artefact to look back on. You will be blown away by how God has been at work in your life and the lives of others answering your prayers. This lo-fi tool can be a huge encouragement to your faith when you are feeling low.

Make Your Time With God A Priority
If we want to be like Jesus we need to spend time with him. There’s an internet meme I’ve seen that says, “People with no time really have no priorities.” After googling I found an article where a person stopped saying, “I don’t have time for that,” and replaced it with the more honest phrase, “That’s not a priority for me.” We all have limited time but certainly quite a bit of control over how we use at least some of it. What are your priorities? Do we have room in our life for God? I don’t want to make room for God. God made my life. I want God to be my life. My everything. He inhabits every part of it, but often, I’m not really looking.

Pain and Struggle Now But A Day Of Glory And Perfection Is Coming
“One day, in the eternal kingdom of God, we will always feel like praying. Thanks and trust will flow out from us like fragrance from a flower. But in the meantime, our feelings about prayer will be mixed, because we ourselves are ‘mixed’. We have God’s spirit within us, but we still live in the flesh and we still battle against the desires of the flesh - one of which is to neglect prayer!” (p. 176.)

I pray the exploration of this excellent little book has motivated you to keep battling the flesh and make prayer a priority. If you would like to keep exploring this topic more here are a few books I have found immensely helpful:

  • The Psalms, The Holy Bible
  • The Songs of Jesus, A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (Also titled My Rock; My Refuge) by Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller
  • A Child’s First Book of Prayers by Lois Rock and Alison Jay
  • You Can Pray, Tim Chester
  • A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers by Don Carson
  • John Calvin on Prayer in The Essence of the Reformation by Kirsten Birkett
  • Prayer by Tim Keller (Katie Stringer has written four essays on this book which you can find here http://equipbooks.blogspot.com.au/search/label/prayer )

About this month's contributor, Katie Stringer
Katie loves writing and has had snippets published in Womankind Magazine and the Guardian Weekly. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church, All Souls Leichhardt and loves being part of the Leichhardt community. She is married to Andrew and they have two school-age daughters and a young son.