“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. (and yes, I prayed like a child). When I became a man I put childish ways behind me.” 1 Cor 13: 11
There are several spiritual gray hairs of maturity: love, patience, forgiveness…and many others, but prayer is maybe the most obvious sign of growth. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to mature in but it is not as easy as moving from “now I lay me down to sleep” to the “PRAY” acronym. (P-Praise R-Repent A-Ask for others Y-Yourself).
I consider myself an older teenager when it comes to prayer. I am not quite a child anymore, I think I know more than I do and my practice of it often feels not fully developed. I am comfortable in the ‘grown up’ world but I still revert back to childishness at times. Prayer for me is at once simple and difficult to master. I have tasted very deeply of what it will be like to be a grown-up but I do not dwell there continually.
Some truly do seem to master it. When I need to ask for prayer for something, although I know many Christians, there are only a handful that I think will truly pray. You know what I’m saying here. I know all of my friends will bow their head and ‘lift me up’….but there is indeed a difference between those saints who will go to their knees and travail for a purpose, who will take the time to ‘meet with God’ and suffer in the request, and those who fling random wishes into the air with ‘Dear God’ in front of it….there is a difference and if something is critical to me….I ask my buddies with the calloused knees first.
I suppose all of us early on put formulas into practice and then stall out. We seek to deepen our prayer life by expanding what we pray for and the time spent doing it, which is really not a deepening at all…..we end up as the guy in this video praying for everything we can think of and feeling obligated to do it for so long. Instead of boldly entering past the veil we rush through the outside court and call out our thoughts to God as we pass by. I suppose it may count as prayer but it doesn’t seem to affect much. Or, maybe it does, but it doesn’t seem very meaningful.
I love communing with God. I find nothing sweeter in life, not even my children. But, I do not pray that sweet Holy of Holies way every single time I whisper ‘Father’. I go to lonely places but I don’t always steal away each day. I am mindful that I don’t go long stretches without it entirely. Typically I practice continual prayer which takes some time to get into the habit of and is unfortunately, easy to fall out of. It takes discipline to stay in and I think, an evidence of maturity. For me, it does not replace going off alone to pray but it keeps me closely connected until I am moved to be alone with Him, or ….I just realize I need to get back in there. Often I find that it is the practice of lifting every thought up to God that leads me to thirst to be alone with Him. As I pray throughout the day something will catch my breath and I feel compelled to meet with HIm NOW. And I do, but not always in the sacred way I envision best. Instead I’m bowing my head in the grocery store as I wait in line, in the car as I am driving (scary, I agree), or I excuse myself and go to the bathroom for privacy. Nothing feels very holy about it but it is real. Then there are THOSE times, those hours when I am completely alone with Him and I can almost feel His breath. Nothing compares.
If you think about it, both require maturity though we tend to think of being alone on the mountain camped out with God as more ‘sacred’. A ‘grown-up’ in prayer though, will probably do both.
And this is where formulas and life separate. At some point I realized that I will not be the epitome of sacred life and that is okay. I rest on God’s pull on my life. I ceased relying on doing things ‘the perfect way’ and now trust that if I respond to Him in all things He will perfect my communion. My prayer life is probably going to be a little different from yours and that shouldn’t freak any of us out. None of us have a corner on the perfect way to pray because there is no perfect way. Well, okay, Jesus had it down. He did it perfectly. So let’s take a look at what He says.
It is interesting that when Jesus taught the disciples to pray He did not say, “every day get on your knees for at least 1/2 an hour and pray for every conceivable need you can think of. While you are doing that try to feel my presence.” But that is exactly how we try to mature in our prayer life, through content, time and experience.
The Our Father prayer can not be duplicated daily in our lives by following its structure. We pray that prayer when we truly enter into those phases of communication with God throughout the day….and it may not be all at once in one big sit down prayer.
But we must guard ourselves. I am always fearful in posts such as this that I am providing an excuse for not doing something. I felt the same way when I posted The Heart of Christian Devotions. This is not the case. Continual prayer is not careless wishing in your head. It is pointed, directed, leaning. It is hard to explain but I think one knows if they are truly doing it or not. It does not always lead to a feeling of closeness but it always produces awareness.
Prayer is not easily fit into a mold, in fact it can’t be. It is one of the richest disciplines I have thought deeply about. I believe that one of the signs of a mature prayer life is that it is expressed in various ways, not under compulsion but out of response and need.
We are still and quiet, letting Him speak to our spirit. We are loud and knocking, searching for Him first in all things. We pray continually in desperation and peace. We pray with stride as we rest upon Him.
One last thought to get the guilt off of your back for not praying for Aunt Sally everyday. If we fail to pray for Aunt Sally or the Walmart checkout lady, or whomever… not all is lost, BUT, if we fail to be in communion with God when He seeks to bring our attention to those people….we have missed a grand opportunity indeed. Our prayers aren’t answered simply because we mutter them. Our prayers are answered because we seek God’s will, are mindful of his presence and purpose and are in a constant dialogue with Him about such things. Our prayers are not about getting things accomplished….this is the way man thinks….our prayers are about dependence, oneness, presence and aligning ourselves with His will. It is in that ‘being’ that deeds are done.