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