I just finished the draft submission of my first project. I haven’t worked that hard in years, but it is just the beginning. That is one course partway done, seven more to go.
I have never been afraid of hard work. So, when I first started thinking about how hard it is to create the habit of disciplined prayer, I thought to myself, a little hard work never scared me away. Just apply yourself and you will get there. Now I realize that though I have never been afraid of hard work, this is different. All that other hard work has been externally directed, at jobs or other goals. This hard work is internal and that appears to be the sticking point.
I had never thought about the difference before, but now it seems pretty clear. Not all hard work is the same. There seems to be a line, at least for me that as the effort moves internal, my drive, my energy seems to dissipate. It appears that the Old Man is not threatened by working hard at external things, but does everything to pull the plug as things move internal, as they start chipping away at his hegemony.
Paul ORear asked me to identify the real nature of prayer, what it really is. One of the frustrating (at times) things about Scripture is the way it lacks our modern sensibilities of just getting to the point. We want it to define, set the limits on, tell us the five best things to do here and the three most important things there, and then, we might feel we have a better grasp on things.
Well it doesnt do things that way. Why, I dont know, but it doesnt just come out and say that prayer is such and such and this is how you do it. One of the reasons I believe that Jesus disciples asked him how to pray was the lack of clear instruction on the subject in the Old Testament and if not for that request we wouldnt have all that much in the New Testament either. What we mostly have are examples of people praying.
So, in order to answer Paul I have had to synthesize many sources, coming at last to my own conclusion, which I think was best expressed by C.S. Lewis. While many people focus on prayer as either asking God for what we need or seeking guidance to do the right thing, I want to go in a different direction. I dont disagree that those things are not important aspects of prayer, but I think Paul was asking more along the lines of what is the root of prayer, its fundamental purpose.
I believe prayer is a change agent. While the Bible leaves us with the possibility of our influencing Gods decisions, made real in Jesus parable of the Unjust Judge where the woman petitioning the judge keeps at it so long the judge relents just to get her to stop, I believe that is the exception.
yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?
C. S. Lewis, when his wife Joy was dying of cancer, prayed exhaustingly in the college chapel. One day, the Bishop saw him praying and told him that surely God would hear his prayer and heal his wife. Lewis looked at him and said, “I don’t pray to change God. I pray that God might change me.” [from memory out of the movie Shadowlands].
I think one of the reasons a habitual, disciplined prayer life is such hard work is that it is essentially working on an internal change. If the person who said praying was thinking God’s thoughts after him was right then I am pretty close to the truth here. God’s purpose in us is to complete the good work he has begun. That fashioning of a noble vessle, fit for service, requires a lot of change–from a lump of sinful clay, having no spiritual purpose, to a renewed life changing daily in its pursuit of God.
That all is accomplished by God’s hand on our clay, by change, deep inner change. Prayer attacks the strongholds of the enemy and his greatest stronghold is in the Old Man we are struggling to put aside. It is the last toehold the enemy has within us, and it resists tooth and nail every advance of the kingdom in ourselves.
A disciplined prayer life is hard because it is a form of spiritual warfare and it is against the strongest enemy we will ever face–overselves, our Old Man. This idea definately warrants more thought and development.
Until then, may our God and Father, who supplies our every need in Christ Jesus our Lord, grant you clear vision on the path we walk together. And, by his mercy, may you find the wisdom and strength to walk it to its conclusion. Amen.