I like praying, I am convinced that prayer achieves something that cannot be done any other way, but I am a lousy pray-er. An important priority for me is to become better at praying, whatever ‘better’ actually is in God’s eyes.
Last year I read A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller and was impressed by what he wrote, particularly how practical it seemed to be. In the process of reading the book I left numerous marks and notes of passages which I wanted to consider further. As I go back through looking at those notes I will write some posts about what I am learning.
In this post I want to consider one of the things about us that can hinder prayer:
One of the subtlest hindrances to prayer is probably the most pervasive. In the broader culture and in our churches, we prize intellect, competency and wealth. Because we can do life without God, praying seems nice but unnecessary. Money can do what prayer does, and it is quicker and less time-consuming. Our trust in ourselves and our talents makes us structurally independent of God. As a result, exhortations to pray don’t stick. (A Praying Life, p16)
I don’t pray as Jesus taught us — generally I am not overly anxious about having enough bread for the day (though anxiety over my debts is always present!). In my view it would be a stressful way to live having to pray for food each day or clothes to wear or the basics of survival. I know that many people do live like this, most not by choice. Relying on God does not have to mean an empty pantry; there is a lot more to faith than loaves and fishes.
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)
One benefit of having walked this Christian road for a good few years now is that I have seen some things which can only happen if God is at work. The transformation of a hard heart to love Christ is the sort of thing I mean. God is in the business of dealing with our hearts, our inner being, the very depths of self that nobody aside from God truly knows or understands. In these murky depths prayer becomes powerful and essential.
Similarly, there is a world outside of us which we are but dimly aware of at best. Whether you read Frank Paretti or not, there is a spiritual realm with beings other than ourselves who have power and agendas that influence our lives. This realm is important even though we cannot directly interact with it. Somehow, what goes on there affects what happens in the physical world and especially with respect to people’s faith and wellbeing.
From within and without all of us are affected by what we do not understand or control. Neither money, human power nor cleverness is useful in contending with these influences. None of us can make changes in the heart of another, only God can. For this we need to pray.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
(Genesis 11:4-6 ESV)
Image of the Tower of Babel by Marten van Valckenborch: Wikimedia commons