If I’m to be really honest with you, one of the things in the Christian life I have always struggled with is what we call Prayer. I know that in writing this post I may loose any of the remaining tatters of credibly I have left in the religious “Christian” world – but more and more I believe we need to be real and honest with one another.
In my early days on the road of faith I tried to follow the honoured tradition of a regular prayer time in a kneeling position. Very often I fell asleep. Over the years I have read, or attempted to read, a good number of books on prayer in the life of the Christian – only to put them aside with a heavy heart. For the most part and for the normal working and family man/woman they seemed much too difficult for me to attain. I recall at one time many years ago attending a seminar on prayer where, with a little manipulation in an exercise we had to carry out, it was concluded that the greatest weakness in my life was in the realm of prayer [as it was for most who attended]. Of course feelings of guilt and inadequacy followed and I determined thereafter to keep a “prayer book” with a daily list of all the people and things I should be praying for. I kept this up, on and off, for a few years – before again lapsing.
Then a bit further down the road I became acquainted with a highly respected Christian of a previous generation who seemed to have found an unusual depth of intimacy with God. Yet at the same time he wrote –
“Having found in many books different methods of going to God and divers practices of the spiritual life, I thought this would serve rather to puzzle me than facilitate what I sought after ..”
Brother Lawrence’s statement gave me not a little relief – for he seemed to have discovered this intimacy without what we may today call any formula – and certainly not at a teaching seminar or lecture series.
Now – many miles down the road I have arrived at a place where I have given up striving in my prayer life. You may think I am very wrong – and perhaps you may be right. However, I choose simply to live and rest in the presence of God and there communicate with him in a very natural way. And it is in that place I personally have found a level of freedom, intimacy and revelation in the realm of prayer. Please do not misunderstand and think of this as any kind of boast – far from it – for I admire and respect very much those who live out their prayer life on a higher plain than I. I am simply being honest – because striving almost destroyed me.
It is also in this place of resting that I have discovered the truth of some of the teachings found in the Bible itself. For instance I can witness with the Apostle Paul when he wrote –
“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
Romans 8:25-27 (NKJV)
Apart from the ordinary struggles many of us have in the place of prayer – there are times when, because of illness, fatigue or the pressures of life, we are unable to concentrate in prayer. But we are forever assured that – “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us”. Furthermore, in a life where many of us struggle to comprehend “God’s Will” the Holy Spirit knows it perfectly and prays that in and for us. What an amazing truth! For me this is not a one off assurance or experience but something that should be an ongoing, day by day reality [although failures come regularly – so I am in no way claiming to have attained to the place I should]. Indeed this last week on one occasion, simply sitting for a few moments in an attitude of communion with the Father, I experienced words and request that did not come from my own mind. I don’t mean to sound “super spiritual” because I’m not – but I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit was making his intercession in me and for me. One of these requests was this – “Lord – may I be tainted by Grace.” Oh how I need that – and the Holy Spirit knows!
Finally let me say I am not holding what I have said here as an example or rule for others, it is not so – but simply where I have found a level of rest, intimacy and peace. Nor, of course, am I saying it is wrong to strive in prayer – I have no doubt there are seasons for that – and indeed that some are called to what we might call “prevailing prayer”. But perhaps none of these things should become a “rule” which we demand of others but rather a personal life calling or a motivation we receive in and for a particular circumstance or season. In that way we can rest – and allow each other to pursue His Presence according to His will, way and purpose for each of us individually.
“Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed,
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near.
Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.”
James Montgomery, 1771–1854
“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”
Brother Lawrence 1614–1691