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"...and forgive me for what I did wrong...and help me with today...erm...and also I pray for ____, for _____ to get well, and for the missionaries I know serving in other countries...also help with me with today....wait, I prayed that already. Also that you will help me to get my devotions done every day. In Jesus' name, amen."
Let's be honest. There are days when praying feels like talking to yourself. When you go through your list dutifully, try hard to really feel gratitude overflow our hearts when it comes to thanksgiving, repeating the same prayer request for what seems like the hundredth time, and end feeling pretty much the same as you did when you started.
Those are the days we forget why we pray.
When the main reason why we drag ourselves through the motion is because this nagging sense of duty propels us to.
It's like exercise, that is for most of us who don't actually enjoy the process of exercising but rather do it for the sake of the feeling after--that sense of satisfaction because you did something that was good for you, you can feel good about yourself.
We do it because we know it's good for us....because we ought to...we know we could enjoy it more, but well, right now we're just focusing on getting it done in the first place. Me on jogging, pretty much.
In his book Desiring God John Piper argues that prayer is both the pursuit of God's glory and our joy--citing John 14:16 and 16:24: "Whatever You ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son;" and "Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full."
For us as human beings, communication is the means by which we develop relationships. And to communicate with God, we pray. Our joy therefore comes from developing our relationship with God, through prayer; understanding Him, trusting Him, and loving Him better. Seeing how He works in our lives and responds to our prayers. When we experience the union with God that we were meant for, we get a foretaste of the state we were meant to be living in, a glimpse of pre-fall Eden, a foreshadowing of heaven.
And this in itself is what glorifies God. Consider that this is the Creator Who made us for this purpose--to have fellowship with Him; Who made us so that we can "glorify Him and enjoy Him" (from our old friend the Westminster Shorter Catechism.) To glorify Him BY enjoying Him. Our joy in Him is His glory.
So the next time you sit down to pray, remember that you're not ticking a box, doing a duty. You are pursuing joy in God, and actively glorifying Him through it. And if like me, you think daily prayer time consists running briefly through a list of names and prayer requests, you're missing out on the main purpose of prayer, and its main benefit for us.
When we pray, we glorify God by experiencing joy in His presence. How much of that do you already have in your prayer time? It's a challenging and sobering question to ask, as it shows us just how much we've missed the mark, just how much we've misunderstood what prayer was meant for, how the "sweet hour of prayer" isn't the unattainable far-off illusion we can't relate to.
But it also shows us how much more it could be for us. How much we were meant to have.
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"Therefore we also pray always for you that...the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ..."
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
While doing Search the Scriptures for 2 Thessalonians, I took some extra time to reflect on Paul's prayers for himself and for the Thessalonians, especially when they were under difficult circumstances. Trials. Persecution, as in this case.
Of course, there were the things we'd usually expect--justice (v.6,) peace (v.7,)...
But interestingly, also for God's glory.
Paul's long prayer closes with his exhortation to them of their primary goal, regardlesss of what they were going through--to glorify the name of Christ, and to seek their own glory only in Him.
Compared to what I usually pray for myself or others when going through a tough time, this was a new thought:
"Take it away!"
"If I have to go through this, give me more strength/wisdom etc to accept it"
"Where are you, God?"
"Please do something about this, please help!"
Which are not necessarily the wrong responses; but when I compare these with Paul's, I see how much greater his perspective was, in seeing God's overarching purpose and plan for allowing such things to happen. In not losing sight of the ultimate priorities working through our present concerns.
Paul's absolute conviction of the worthiness and greatness of God's glorification allowed him to see beyond, to see everything towards that end. To be so heaven-minded. To have such a love and faith in God that we truly desire our lives to glorify Him; even when it doesn't come easily, even at times when we are most tempted to be self-centred, even through the painful experience of injustice and suffering.
Perhaps this sounds even sadistic (if that's not too strong a word) at first. But I have seen people who lived this out, who showed me, in the raw, gory valley of real pain and real suffering, what it means to let the name of Jesus Christ be glorified in our suffering, and us in Him. I have seen their strength and peace and unfailing love and trust, when everything seems to be falling apart. I have watched, and wondered. And I caught a glimpse of Christ's love in a staggering and poignant form, in them. When I I silently marveled, at them.
"...the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ..."
In contrast, so much of self still taints the way I see things that happen to me. I assess experiences and events by how they make me feel, how they benefit or disadvantage me--forgetting that even my standards and basis for these judgments are constantly changing, on their own. I focus on what I can do to solve the problem, to get rid of what I don't like, so that I can continue pursuing an earth-bound definition of happiness.
Learning to see the end of the story, even as we are in the middle of discovering how it gets there...
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For the longest time, my prayer journal has had pride on the page under "spiritual life/growth."
The danger is that though we may recognize that we need to deal with these major sins, we neglect to to do more than simply identify the overall threat they represent--without getting specific to how exactly they are manifested in our lives. Which means not actually dealing with them at all. We admit our failure, but besides praying about it and feeling bad about it, "trying a little harder," we don't actually make any truly concrete changes.
So for the longest time I have been praying about pride, and yet only hazily had any idea about how I could deal with this problem.
I didn't realize that--for also the longest time--I have had a (parallel) problem with impatience. Stemming from my task-oriented and achiever personality. When something needs to be done, I value efficiency and speed, not because it comes naturally, but because it makes me feel good about myself, it gives me a sense of achievement and reassurance if I get many things done, quickly. That probably tells you all you need to know. I tend to dismiss or get impatient with people whose methods of getting things done are different from mine, who want to explore the details, or double check everything. And when my workflow gets disrupted--or criticized--it becomes something personal, something which reflects directly upon my sense of self-worth. I get impatient, tense, and resent any interruptions or criticisms as personal attacks. And I show it, unfortunately.
When I prioritize the task at hand before the person I'm working with--
When I get impatient and dismiss other opinions and working methods because they are different from mine--
When I respond badly to criticism, even when it's constructive and gently conveyed, because I see it as a personal attack on myself and the perfectionist identity I want to maintain--
When I defend my behaviour by claiming that my way is better, anyway--
--the very pride I was praying about flourished.
After an incident where my behaviour was particularly disappointing, I was challenged to see these situations as specific demonstrations of my pride, and deal with them as such. Humility, in my case, could be simply not prioritizing my agenda or way of doing things, to the extent that I behave unlovingly towards others. Humility could be having a heart of peace--amid criticism, or agitation, or tension; when it seems like the job is taking forever, or someone won't stop talking, or my mistakes are being pointed out ("I-told-you-so" situations are probably some of the most mortifying experiences possible for the human soul.) Humility could be the freedom to accept criticism without being crushed or offended.
Humility could be a restful spirit that isn't fixated on getting things done, but prioritizes people and God's timing/plan. Perhaps the main purpose of this incident is teaching me to control my temper, to deal graciously with differences or difficult people, to be loving--not the actual task at hand.
How different from our task-oriented human ideas of 'living for God', 'serving' Him.
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I could start this post off by asking, what's your prayer life like? and induce plenty of uncomfortable squirms (in myself as well.)
After years of struggling at prayer--trying to pray more, to pray better--I've come to the conclusion that we should first address how and why we pray before we start talking about how long or how often.
Too many times as a young Christian trying to pray better, I ended up making yet another list for myself, ploughing through pragmatically and finishing rather out of breath and complacent for the wrong reason. And then I wondered why it seemed so dry and difficult to pray, why prayer isn't the relief, the "sweet hour of prayer"--goodness, I could barely pray for five minutes, one hour?? This is why we mustn't only focus on the activity of spiritual disciplines without understanding the purposes behind them. We end up dutifully consumed by the externalities, by deeds, convinced that like some magic formula we should be upgrading spiritually if we keep doing it long enough.
In teaching Sunday School and working with children in church, I've learnt about prayer in the process of trying to teach them to pray. As I try to answer the questions my students fire at me, and guide the children as they learn to pray, I find myself thinking more, deeper. Simplifying, going back to the very basics of the basics--what does it mean to pray?
Instead of focusing on the externalities--
making a big deal about whether they close their eyes...
fussing if they don't put their hands together...
saying how to begin and end 'the right way'...
telling them what they should or shouldn't pray for...
...we should help them first see why we want to pray in the first place, rather than how.
I think once they have properly grasped the why and Who behind the concept of prayer--a proper understanding of who God is and what prayer means as such--the how will come naturally, whether that means a due respect for God, or being able to pray openly from their hearts.
It was a good reminder to me to examine: how does the way I pray reflect the person of God?
Is He a divine vending machine?
A 24/7 Aunt Agony?
A holy God?
A loving and merciful One?
If I'd not (fortunately) realized how nitpicky and naggy I was becoming I might very well have given my kids the impression that God was like some eccentric elderly relative you have to visit during Chinese New Year for formality's sake, and be polite to because they might give you an ang pow (red paper packet with money inside) if you were polite and did all the weird things they insisted on--close your eyes, sit still, remember to begin and end with those phrases, put your hands in your lap and don't wriggle...
Sometimes it's downright frightening being a Sunday School teacher. So many small things you do or don't do may have such significant spiritual impact!
I'm afraid the God my prayers reflect would be rather too task-oriented, and not extremely interested in having a relationship with His people.
I'm learning to see prayer, like spending time with a loved one--a loved One--as building a relationship; not just working together, reporting back, or fulfilling a duty. Spiritual growth and maturity, all the things we worry about as young Christians, come naturally from there.
With that realization comes a new appreciation and capacity for the "peace that surpasses all understanding"--a peace that we are promised, when we told to "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, that surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7, emphasis mine) The "sweet hour of prayer" that otherwise seems so hard to comprehend when our mind is full of anxiety and guilt, that we can't reconcile with our task-oriented, mechanical, and joyless understanding of prayer. The restfulness we need comes when we talk to Him--earnestly, simply, intimately, seeking to grow our love for and relationship with Him.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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