Friday, April 27, 2012

Praying for Your Prayer Life? I disagree

Respectfully, I disagree.

I came across this post today by Tim Challies. He suggests seven prayers to add to your prayer list. He draws these suggestions from Scripture, listing several passages to complement his seven points. But something about this seems off. It seems like it's a whole lot of throat-clearing before one actually gets around to the business of prayer. I believe there should be times where we examine how we pray, but not during our prayers. While these might be helpful instructions for prayer, probably even good intercessory prayers for others, the point seems to be how praying in this way helps us become people who pray. That's where I disagree. Praying in order to be a better prayers seems counter intuitive. Isn't prayer about something else?

So, just for good measure and a little bit of fun, I suggest alternatives to the first four suggestions that embrace Challies's concerns, but it such a way that prayer doesn't become about praying to be better prayers, but of the actual business of praying.

For the last three, though, I'm going to take it in a different direction.

- To his point, "Pray that your prayers would be expressions of a humble heart," I suggest we simply pray for grace in humility. The only way to pray from a humble heart is to become humble ourselves. Therefore, we should expect that occasions will arise when we will actually have to be humble.

- To his point, "Pray that God would remind you that He doesn't want or need your eloquent prayers," I suggest we practice silence in our prayers. That would be the best way to avoid eloquence, and might, perhaps, be more eloquent in an aesthetic/beauty kind of way that using words.

- To his point, "Pray that you would remember what the really important requests are," I suggest we pray the Lord's Prayer on a daily basis and actually remind ourselves of what the really important requests are.

- To his point, "Pray that you would remember biblical examples of answered prayer," I suggest we incorporate, no, immerse ourselves in the lives of the saints (all the faithful who have gone before us). Rather than pray for memory, let's begin to memorize and know these stories on visceral level.

These next three are a little more tricky:

"Pray that God would give you confidence in His sovereign power."
"Pray that God would help you persevere in prayer."
"Pray that God will encourage you that he is your loving Father and will give you only what is good,"

I think these prayers are for the person entering what has been called the dark night of the soul or the cloud of unknowing or the dryness as Mother Teresa experienced. The difference is that when you come to threshold of that kind of prayer and contemplation you are beyond the simplicity of words. So, while you might pray for confidence, perseverance, and encouragement, you are praying from a place of holy darkness and divine unknowing that is necessary for that more deeper and loving union with God. This kind of prayer is a gift.

Perhaps Thomas Merton says it best, "...the full maturity of the spiritual life cannot be reached unless we first pass through the dread, anguish, trouble, and fear that necessarily accompany the inner crisis of 'spiritual death' in which we finally abandon our attachment to our exterior self and surrender completely to Christ."

He continues," Hence the contemplative way is ... the paradoxical response to an almost incomprehensible call from God, drawing us into solitude, plunging us into darkness and silence, not to withdraw and protect us from peril, but to bring us safely through untold dangers by a miracle of love and power ... The 'desert' of contemplation is simply a metaphor to explain the state of emptiness which we experience when we have left all ways, forgotten ourselves and taken the invisible Christ as our way."

So, here are some first words on prayer:

To pray from the place of darkness and unknowing means that we have left behind all others ways of making sense of the world for the sake of Christ. To know this Christ - that is, to pray - means joining with Him along the way, going where He goes, doing what He does. The words of prayer are only a part of embodied existence. Our mouths and brains/intellect are a physical reality. Prayer is a bodily, fleshly thing.

A la Michael Scott, prayer takes us somewhere we can hardly begin to name. Even this blog post took me in direction I didn't expect to go this morning. I think what I find off about praying for confidence, perseverance, and encouragement (along with the bodily nature of prayer) is the lack of surprise. Faith and prayer are a little more unpredictable than that because the goal is love. I don't want confidence, perseverance, and encouragement. I want to know that I am loved by God and to love others in light it.

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