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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

prayer: rule of life

In creating a Rule of Life, we must first identify our own character and our own ministry. Ideally, that is done in concert with others.
Pray-Work-Study. Let's start with Pray.

One aspect of the Rule should be corporate worship. Sorry, the Bible is pretty clear that God calls a people to Himself. He calls a people to worship. I know all about the problems with the church. I understand that people in the church are imperfect. I agree that lots of churches do lots of damage. But God calls us to be part of a people.

Corporate worship in the Christian tradition has focused on Sunday, the resurrection day (little Easter). If one's schedule permits then it might also be helpful to include a few other gatherings during the week. Some churches have daily eucharist or Morning/Evening prayer. [I am well informed about the problem many people have with corporate worship. They have told me for decades, "I don't get much out of it." It may be helpful to remember that corporate worship is intended to focus on God, not you. Not saying it should be a boring experience, but I am saying it is not primarilly about you.] Another option is a regular prayer group. Jesus said, "Where two or more are gathered in My name, I will be with them." Jesus seems to be a fan of group prayer.

Corporate worship is in conjunction with private prayer. Private prayer disciplines are truly a function of one's personality. I prefer to use the psalms and Scriptures in prayer. Many people use devotional books. Some sit in quiet and meditate. Others like to move. Some use prayer beads (like a rosary) or repetitve prayers (like the 'Jesus Prayer'). In general, I think there are a few components to all effective prayer, which I will have the temerity to share now:
  • It needs to be scheduled. By this I mean, the foundation of our prayer life cannot be short prayers uttered as the mood hits. It is helpful to have a place set aside (call it sacred space). Humans get unconscious signals from environment. [The term "marriage bed" has powerful conotations. We do not serve meals in the bathroom. We react to invasions of our personal space.] The amount of time needs to be significant. I shoot for thirty to sixty minutes for my own daily prayer. I think physical exercise is a good model for spiritual exercise. It takes a while to warm up and it takes time to make an impact.
  • Prayer is NOT magic. The primary reason for prayer is to have COMMUNITY with God. Prayer time is about me being reshaped and reformed by my relationship with God. It is a process of dying to self and growing in Christ.
  • All good prayer has some moments of absolute quiet and centering on God. Because we are all different, many of us do not "do silence" well. I cannot imagine any situation where listening does not include the ability to be silent.
  • All good prayer should include some interaction with God's Word. The heart of sin is our own heart! Our thoughts, desires, feelings, etc. are the producers of our own evil. It is not a good idea to assume that "praying from the heart" is some how pure. [People get mad when I say this, but I still know it is true] The Scriptures can help us encouter God from the outside. The Gospels reveal Jesus to us. The Bible reveals God to us. So some time in reflection on the Word of God is vital.
  • All good prayer should include some time of thanksgiving. What would your life be like without your lips? or your finger nails? or your kidneys? or your your skin? Do you think you would spend time griping if suddenly you were to lose your eye sight? Then how much time should be spent every day thanking God for loved ones? health? joy? My guess is that ten minutes a day listing things for which we are thankful would be a worthwhile thing.
  • All good prayer should include a time of being with God. Like a child in a parents' arms, like a servant before a merciful Master, like a student before a Great Teacher, like one lover gazing at another. Prayer is not primarily functional. It is not about "getting stuff" or "doing stuff." Prayer is about falling ever deeper in love and learning Who the Beloved is more deeply.
Foundation prayer. Every day for a signficant time, a time set aside and a place to do it. That is part of the rule of life which we fashion. Then during the day we find, more and more. other prayer moments creep in, any where and any time. And we do it every day without focusing on how we feel, because most of the time it will not feel especially wonderful.

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