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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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