I’m so excited that a number of people (even a few with whom I am not related!) have decided to join me in reading Celebration of Discipline. I also have a few friends who are currently reading this book in small groups (merely by coincidence, if you believe in such things), and I hope they will check in and maybe share some thoughts too. I have never read anything that so systematically addresses spiritual disciplines, and even though we are only on the second discipline, I’m already reassessing some things.
I’ve just returned from spending two weeks at Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference which sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. I was privileged to take long walks on the beach pictured above without encountering another soul. The whole vacation, which is intentionally free of TV and video games and endless outings, is akin to stepping out of this world for a bit. Each year while I am there I am wholly uninformed about what is going on in the world, and there’s something really healthy about that. It is easier to commune with God when we take a break from the informational bombardment that so characterizes life in the 21st century. Most of what flows into our brains in day-to-day life is less than helpful. In fact, much of it only serves to distract us from what is truly important. On vacation, it was refreshing for me to have time to think, to walk without my iPod, enjoy God’s creation, pray and contemplate His plans for me.
The last few weeks I’ve been blogging about prayer. It started when my almost six-year-old was ill. He was coughing his darling little head off but he didn’t want me to pray about it because he said, and I quote, “it won’t work!” This thought-provoking and heartbreaking statement keeps coming to mind, and my last two posts have been spurred by Nate’s fear of unanswered prayer.
This week I’d like to focus our discussion a bit and begin looking at the purpose of prayer. Take a minute to think about why you pray. Many people, whether they are Christ-followers or not, pray in times of crises. Others pray because they seek peace; others seek relationship. Some pray to change their circumstances, others to change their hearts. Some seek forgiveness, others direction. It is good to think about why and what we pray, but I believe the ultimate purpose of prayer is to align our will with the will of our Heavenly Father. The Lord’s Prayer illustrates this submission (“thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”) and the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is radically submissive. (My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26: 39).
I don’t know how often this alignment of wills is the driving force behind my prayers, but certainly not often enough. Yet as we walk with God, as we are sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our pleas and our desires should more and more reflect this vision of unity: “Heavenly Father, let my will be yours.”
But how do we get there? We don’t wake up one day and simply decide that our self-centered ways are over, that His good, pleasing and perfect will is now ours. There is no victory in mere human effort. No, this is a work of God. Yet we are also somehow partners in the endeavor—our spirit needs to be willing to embrace and live according to His Spirit. We cannot expect our will to reflect His without dedication and discipline in pursuing Him.
A smaller, more manageable step, we can take in pursuing His will for our lives, is to worship our Heavenly Father in prayer. A cursory glance at any section of the Bible reveals God’s desire to be first in our lives. It is the first and greatest commandment and is a constant theme throughout God’s Word. J. Oswald Sanders noted that we “should worship God in gratitude for what He has done for us, but our worship reaches a higher level when we adore Him simply for what He is, for the perfection and excellence of His own being.” (Prayer Power Unlimited).
And because God is always giving us the tools we need to accomplish His will, He has given us the Psalms. Sanders, and other great saints, recommend reading the Psalms and turning them into our own personal prayers.
I do this on occasion, but not as often as I should. My favorite Psalm to pray is 103 because He has indeed redeemed my life from a pit and crowned me with love and compassion.
This week may we worship our God (our loving Father, our devoted Savior and our omnipresent Counselor) through purposeful prayer.
So how did it go? Were your prayers fervent and filled with vision this last week? I’m sorry to report that I could’ve done much much better. Sometimes life is very busy — my middle son was fighting off pneumonia last week, my oldest son had swim practice everyday and a divisional meet on Saturday, and my mom and my in-laws both came for a visit. But is busyness really an excuse not to pray? Hardly, right? If anything, busyness is a reason to pray.
My family has been fighting some kind of a nasty virus for the last few weeks, and the other night, a little while after Nate went to bed, he started having a terrible coughing fit. You know the kind when the coughing will not subside and it sounds like there is a real possibility that a lung might come flying out? I rushed into his room, and stood next to his bed. Since he sleeps in the top bunk he is right at eye level for me. I made him sit up, and rubbed his back while he coughed away.