Saturday, May 9, 2009
Distractions to Prayer
No one who has tried to pray for more than a few seconds at a time would claim that he is never distracted. It is astonishing to note how insistently and immediately irrelevant matters come to mind, noises occur, things to be attended to are remembered, people interrupt, and even physical discomforts or pains bother us which we had not noticed until we tried to pray. These things are, of course, the work of the master saboteur of souls, who knows how to render our spiritual machinery useless, by the loosening of the tiniest screw or the loss of the smallest nut.
Distractions can be useful. They provide constant reminders of our human weakness. We recognize in them how earthbound we are, and then how completely we must depend on the help of the Holy Spirit to pray in and through us. We are shown, by a thousand trivialities, how trivial are our concerns. The very effort to focus, even for a minute, on higher things, is foiled, and we see that prayer--the prerequisite for doing anything for God--cannot be done without Him.
We are not, however, left to fend for ourselves. "The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God" (Romans 8:26-27 JB).
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Some readings on prayer, by Elisabeth Elliot:
Notes on Prayer:
Prayer is no game. Even if you are part of a "team," as when others join you in prayer, you are not cheered on by spectators or coached by any experts. You won't get any trophies--not on this side of the Jordan, anyway. It's not likely you'll get any credit at all. For some people prayer might fall into the category of "fun," but that's not usually the reason we pray. It's a matter of need and responsibility.
Prayer is work because a Christian simply can't "make a living" without it. He can't live a Christian life at all if he doesn't pray.
Prayer is the opposite of leisure. It's something to be engaged in, not indulged in. It's a job you give first priority to, performing not when you have energy left for nothing else. "Pray when you feel like praying," somebody has said. "Pray when you don't feel like praying. Pray until you do feel like praying." If we pray only "at our leisure"--that is, at our own convenience--can we be true disciples? Jesus said, "Anyone who wants to follow me must put aside his own desires and conveniences" (Luke 9:23 LB).
The apostle Paul did use an analogy from sports to describe prayer. He said we "wrestle." In the wrestling of a Christian in prayer, "our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil" (Eph. 6:12, Phillips). Seldom do we consider the nature of our opponent, and that is to his advantage. When we do recognize him for what he is, however, we have an inkling as to why prayer is never easy. It's the weapon that Unseen Power dreads most, and if he can get us to treat it casually he can keep his hold.
Prayer is like incense. It costs a great deal. It doesn't seem to accomplish much (as we mortals assess things). It soon dissipates. But God likes the smell. It was God's idea to arrange the work of the tabernacle to include a special altar for incense. We can be pretty sure he included all that was necessary and nothing that was unnecessary.
Christ prayed. He offered thanksgiving, he interceded for others, he made petitions. That the Son--co-equal, co-eternal, consubstantial with the Father--should come to the Father in prayer is a mystery. That we, God's children, should be not only permitted but commanded also to come is a mystery. How can we change things by prayer? How "move" a sovereign and omnipotent God? We do not understand. We simply obey because it is a law of the universe, as we obey other laws of the universe, knowing only that this is how things have been arranged: the book falls to the floor in obedience to the law of gravity if I let go of it. Spiritual power is released through prayer.
One way of laying down our lives is by praying for somebody. In prayer I am saying, in effect, "my life for yours." My time, my energy, my thought, my concern, my concentration, my faith--here they are, for you. So it is that I participate in the work of Christ. So it is that no work of faith, no labour of love, no smallest prayer is ever lost, but, like the smoke of the incense on the golden altar, rises from the hand of the angel before God.
Pray Hard, Work Tirelessly:
Sometimes we think of these two things as in opposition. The Bible never places them so, but shows how perfectly they harmonize. Prayer is one kind of work, necessary to the proper doing of all other kinds. When we pray, we are in touch with God, expectant, trusting: He is at work. He does what we cannot do. We are to be at work also, doing what we can do.
In Paul's closing remarks to the Christians in Colossae he includes greetings from Epaphras.
He prays hard for you all the time....He works tirelessly for you. (Col 4:12-13 NEB)
As we pray, the Lord frequently shows us what we ourselves can do to cooperate with Him in bringing about the answer. Let us listen as we pray. Then let us go out and work tirelessly.
Why Bother to Pray?
If God is sovereign, and things will be as they are going to be anyway, why bother to pray? There are several reasons. The first is really all we need to know: God has told us to pray. It is a commandment, and if we love Him we obey his commands.
Second, Jesus prayed. People sometimes say that the only reason for prayer is that we need to be changed. Certainly we do, but that is not the only reason to pray. Jesus was not being made more holy by prayer. He was communing with his Father. He was asking for things. He thanked God. In his Gethsemane prayer He was beseeching the Father to prevent what was about to take place. He was also laying down his own will.
Third, prayer is a law of the universe. As God ordained that certain physical laws should govern the operation of this universe, so He has ordained the spiritual law. Books simply will not stay put on the table without the operation of gravity-- although God could cause them, by divine fiat, to stay. Certain things simply will not happen without the operation of prayer, although God could cause them, by divine fiat, to happen. The Bible is full of examples of people doing what they could do and asking God to do what they couldn't do. In other words, the pattern given to us is both to work and pray.