My renewed interest in prayer began with knee surgery.
Appropriate, right? But the knee was not a significant subject of my prayers.
Following my surgery I was beat up by a little girl. Three times a week, for three months. These physical therapy sessions stimulated prayers for those I met there. However, PT (aka Pain Time) did not lead me to pray much more or pray much differently.
Graduating from PT, I thought that my old practices of just walking and biking would suffice for maintenance. I was wrong. A year after knee replacement, I was limping again. I thought that maybe I had overdone walking and biking. I prayed with remorse. But remorse is not unusual for my prayers. My habits of prayer still had not changed.
I returned to the doctor and the same little girl physical therapist.
To my relief I learned that I just needed to continue the simple stretches I'd already learned. Plus a couple more, presumably as punishment for substituting my favored exertions. The beatings and recommended stretches worked immediately!
Here's how I came to renew interest in prayer: During a subsequent stretching exercise at home, a question entered my mind
Might I also benefit from stretching in non-athletic ways?
An answer pretty quickly followed.
"Train yourself for godliness;
for while bodily training is of some value,
godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come." - 1 Timothy 4
But where to begin? Should I consult a prayer doctor, or what? I dug out my old copy of Richard J Foster's book Celebration of Discipline. Foster examines a dozen classic practices of the Christian life: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study; Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service; Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration. I knew that disciplines and virtues build from each other. I suspected pursuing too many of these at once would hurt more than help. I chose kind of arbitrarily to focus first on prayer.
Before I report on the dismaying yet fruitful experiences in "prayer stretches", let me emphasize this:
"You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve.
This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own.
It isn’t something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about.
God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted
us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are." - Ephesians 2
God is not a vending machine. Improving praying--or service, or worship--must not be an attempt to buy God's favor. He already favors us. Suppose as some do, that progress in prayer is measured by miracles. How is that so different than the rooster who feels his crowing causes the sun to rise? Perhaps with better praying I gain appreciation of God, enjoyment of his creation, empathy for people, or insights and feelings about myself. Positive as these are, ought these be my motives to pray? What are the purposes of prayer?
Studying prayer has been productive for me, but is no substitute for just praying. I ought not delay until I'm good. As Chesterton put it, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." I found that are such things as prayers God doesn't like. Yet as you'll see in a minute, I also found that God is prepared for us to pray poorly, with inferior knowledge and deplorable technique. As we come to pray, we have resources besides prior study.
It's not all up to me. I have--we have--a coach, a helper.
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We do not know what to pray for as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with
groanings too deep for words." - Romans 8
Paul wrote about half the New Testament. Paul admits that he and other believers know diddly-squat about prayer. "We do not know what to pray for!" Many translations put this, "we don't know how to pray!"
Genuine humility is not a defect. Humility and confession are recommended opening stretches for prayer.
But Paul also has good news. He immediately adds that God's Spirit comes alongside as a helper, a coach, an advocate. Jesus several times says as much of the Spirit:
"I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,
to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth,
whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him
nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you
and will be in you." - John 14
I plan to ramble on in several installments about what I've learned so far this year about prayer, how these stretches of my mind, my emotions, and even my muscles are improving my praying. In any case, I hope you will be encouraged to pray, just pray. You are not alone.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.