Of all the things God is challenging me with these days is the issue of prayer. There have been a number of people in my life (books, mentors, friends, family) who have been really calling me out on my prayer habits (or lack-there-of). So, I’ve taken it upon myself to begin a journey that starts with the posture of the disciples in Luke 11:1 where they say to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Other than just diving into the practice of regular/daily prayer times and asking God to teach me along the way I have been buying and reading as many books as I can on the subject.
I think the following quote by Dallas Willard in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines” is a great start to this topic:
“The ‘open secret’ of many ‘bible believing’ churches is that a vanishing small percentage of those talking about prayer and Bible reading are actually doing what they are talking about….” (p. 186)
I have to be honest. This is true of every church I have ever been a part of. Prayer (and scripture reading) have always been major topics of discussion and a major emphasis. Apart from a poorly attended weekly prayer meeting, the nice and eloquent pastoral prayer in the middle of each service and the obligatory prayer before each meeting, prayer did not play a central role. (In case you think I am picking on my past church experiences, I have to confess this is generally true of our community as well at this point – which I hope will begin to change).
I think there are two different ways we need to look at this issue….
The first deals with the individual prayer lives of the people in the community. Now, I know there are amazing exceptions in every community. I can think of a number of people right off the top of my head who I would consider “prayer warriors.” But, unfortunately these people are usually few and far between. Scot McKnight points out in his book “Praying with the Church” that up until the fall of the Roman Empire Christians (and before that Israel) had as part of their daily practice set times for prayer (much like we see in the Muslim faith).
They practiced “fixed hour prayer,” meaning they prayed at set times each day (this may have meant up to seven times a day). It was so important that they patterned their lives after prayer, not the clock. What would it look like for us to believe that prayer was that important that we scheduled our day around times of prayer. Maybe we’re not looking at seven times a day. But can’t we at least start with twice? Morning when we wake up and in the evening before we go to sleep? This is a challenge to me for sure…
The second way I think we need to think about this is to prayer together, with the Church. Again I reference Scot McKnight’s book as it is the one book that really opened my eyes to the Church being in prayer together. While he makes a great case for the Church (universal) praying together (through the use of prayer books) I want to also think about what it would mean for the local church to pray together.
Of course, in our suburban, fast paced culture we find it really, really hard to come together in person and pray. But, why can’t we take the idea of fixed hour prayer and the abilty to share things over the internet and e-mail and schedule our lives around set hours where we are all praying together, for the same things, at the same time. While I will never want to go away from praying together in the same room, perhaps we can supplement it with prayer together at the same times.
So, the point I am putting forth here in this first post on prayer: If we are going to be people who use all the right language about being “people of prayer,” we’d better start making it a reality in our personal lives and our life together as local communities. Of course, if this is going to happen, its going to take some major discipline and creativity.
Lord, we know that prayer is vital to communion with you and the mission of the church. But we struggle so much in being people who have the discipline to stop our busy lives and focus on you. Lord…teach us to pray.
Next post on prayer: Why is prayer so hard?