In the books I have read on prayer over the years, the thing that seems to be missing is the fact that prayer is really hard work. Most of the books focus on the spiritual and intellectual aspects of prayer and lay most of the problems at spiritual weakness and lack of commitment. Some even allude to the possibility of laziness, which includes more than the spiritual. I have come to a slightly different conclusion; I believe at least some of the problem is the exceptionally hard work involved.
As I have been saying this week, prayer is not just talking with God, sitting around in a kind of spiritual bull session with our creator. That is easy and most of us enjoy doing that. I do that every other Saturday night with friends. No. Prayer is the things I listed yesterday:
Coming up with reverent petitions, filled with devotion, while confessing our sins and weakness, but at the same time praising God for his goodness and mercy, thanking him for what he has given us, even in the midst of want, making that request fervant and aptly worded as true religious observance and not a casual conversation is very, very hard. Doing it every day, now that is what separates the major league saints from those who are still in the rookie league.
I believe that is why we have liturgies, or if we are in churches that don’t, why we create our own. It is easier to follow a pattern and add a few ad hoc touches than to do it all yourself, from the heart. Morning prayer, Evening prayer, Compline, even the Lord’s prayer. I find it interesting how much the exact words of the Lord’s prayer are used when what Jesus said was not that we should pray this exact prayer but pray like this or after this manner. It was meant to be an example, an outline or starting point, detailing the types of things we should cover. We have turned it into a liturgy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, liturgies are helpful. I attend a liturgical church. Liturgies supply us with supports to help our prayer and worship. However, that is not what I am dealing with. I am dealing personal, disciplined prayer. That requires more. Jesus said in Luke 6:45
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45
I believe this type of disciplined personal prayer must must come from your heart, from yourself. It goes beyond the liturgies, the formulas, and that is why it is so hard. It very hard to pour out your heart. It is very hard to even search your heart for the things to say. The petitions, those are the easy part, but if you look at the list, petitions and fervent requests are only a small part.
I am beginning to think prayer is like exercise. It requires constant training. When you first begin running or jogging on a treadmill or riding a stationary or recumbent bike, you take it slow and build up your endurance over a period of time; a period in which you are diligent in your training. While you are getting in shape, you have to work much harder to produce the desired result, but eventually you reach a level of conditioning which you can sustain and the job from that point is to maintain that level.
I believe prayer is very similar. At first it is very hard and over a long period you will have to work very hard to produce the desired result, but eventually you will reach a level of spiritual conditioning, if you will, that while still work, is not the struggle it was to get to where you wanted to be. As I look back on my life, I just never prayed through that period of conditioning, which can take a long time, especially for those of us who are really out of shape.
So, that is where I am this Lent, trying to get into prayer shape and it is not easy getting started, but get started I must. I invite you to join in and change your life as I expect this effort to change mine.
Grace and peace and perseverance be yours as together we pursue God through prayer.