Lent 06: Day 11

I got an interesting question/statement from my friend Paul O’Rear.

It’s one thing to look up in the dictionary for what prayer is, and another thing to hear from our contemporary church what prayer is, but what is it that God actually desires of us from prayer? Where do we look for ‘the real meaning of prayer’? I’m not arguing that prayer is not work, but what is the basis for saying that prayer is work? (Beyond the writings of many ’saints’ since Christ.) i.e. what are our biblical proof texts for what prayer should really look like?

Actually I found that prayer is work for me and it reminded me of exercise in many ways, as does most things in life that are worthwhile. As to dictionaries and meanings, both you and I know that God is very specific in his choice of meanings of words and when he enhances the definition, as he did with Logos by the Apostle John, he spends enough effort to flesh out the understanding. I feel the same has been done with Agape, but then there are those who disagree with that.

The first biblical character who comes to mind for me when I think of prayer is Nehemiah.

When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4

It is generally accepted that this period of days where Nehemiah prayed was almost a month before Nehemiah approached the King with his plan, taking his life in his hands when he did so. I have always had the sense that Nehemiah went through intense labor in his prayer. There may be more or better examples, but I don’t have much time right now and my brain is beginning to shut down for the evening.

Maybe I should clarify something. I don’t think all prayer is laborious. Many prayers are quick and short, right to the point. They speak to the need of the moment. That is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the discipline of prayer and discipline is by definition a labor, a hard work. I always thought that is why Jesus said to go into your closet to pray. If disciplined prayer were that easy and simple and not hard work, why hide the effort to avoid showing off? The idea, as I get it, is to struggle privately, not as a public show. Jesus went off by himself, and told us to do likewise.

I would venture to say that there are a lot of people for whom the majority of their prayer is public, at services, prayer meetings, studies, and other Christian gatherings, even with their family. While that has its place, it is not the prayer I am talking about. That is what happens in private, when it is just you and God.

I am still exploring these thoughts, doing it out in the open so others can agree or disagree and I can find my way along the path of truth. My hope at the end of this is that we all arrive at some level of disciplined prayer and that if you are exercising like I am (putting 12 miles on the recumbent bike 5 days a week) that you arrive at some level of cardiovascular conditioning also. Maybe it is my athletic background, but I see a corollary between the two.

However, my prayer today is that God grants all of us the grace to continue on this journey, to discover what it means to pray as a spiritual discipline, and in the end to arrive at no less than a minimal level of conditioning in our prayer life so that we can sustain the effort well past the average passing prayer. In that I ask, Lord have mercy.

  4 comments for “Lent 06: Day 11

  1. March 14, 2006 at 6:57 am

    A discipline is only hard work until it becomes a habit. The discipline continues as you build to greater heights and depths of prayer. What seemed like a tortured workout the first time on your bike is probably not even a sweating point for you now.

    Thank you so much for your daily posts during this season.

  2. Ben Oehler
    March 14, 2006 at 9:58 am

    As far as my poor prayer experience shows me over the last 40 years to contiunally/daily seek the presence of the Lord and to really communicate with him i s hard work. It is not biking, hiking, climbing or any other sport but dealing with the Most High. All spiritual authorities in church history that I know compare this kind of prayer with “step by step penetrating”, “wrestling”, “digging”, “fighting” and many more expressions that remind of hardest work. Read yourself trusted witnesses like Origen, Calvin, Baker, Madame Guyon, Chadwick, Anderson, Praying Hyde, Torrey, Murray and many, many others. By the way, Paul in this very context called it “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”. Have you ever been in war?

  3. Ben Oehler
    March 14, 2006 at 10:33 am

    When I look back over some 40 years of prayer experience I must honestly say that a daily serious searching of His presence, an encounter with the Most High i s hard work. Hard work within myself. When I study trusted witnesses of spiritual authorities of church history, they compare that kind of prayer with “wrestling”, “fighting”, “step by step penetrating”, “praying through”, “overcoming” and so on. Read Origen, Baker, Calvin, Madame Guyon, Praying Hyde, Murray and Torrey, they all confirm the fact. By the way, in that very context Paul appears as a fighter in a severe war szenario. “Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Friends, that is the stage when we talk about a consistent prayer discipline.

  4. March 14, 2006 at 11:30 pm

    Sorry Ben, I didn’t see your first post needing approval. I was at work. Just finished the draft submission of a big project.

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