Daily Devotion - Wednesday, February 3, 2016
I don't typically pray in conventional fashion. I pray when I journal every morning. I pray in conversations with other people. I pray in silence while driving in my car. I pray by reading prayers or poems by people who write the best prayers or poems. And I pray the Lord's Prayer quite often, or read from the Psalms, or prayers and poems written by others when I can't think of what to pray.
I had to give myself permission to change my prayer life years ago when I realized that my efforts prayer weren't really working. I always felt kind of bad that when I would set aside time to pray (just me, a place to sit comfortably or sometimes to kneel), I would doze off about halfway through all of my petitions to God. Sometimes it even happened when I was praying with other people.
I'd be praying along, "Lord, I just want to you bless my family, shower us with your bountiful goodness. I pray that you would grant me more patience and peace, especially when I'm watching football. I also pray that... that... zzzzzz." It was uncanny. Every single time I tried to pray like I thought I was supposed to pray, my mind would start to wander, then my head would grow heavy, and then I would be out like a light.
Falling asleep whilst praying isn't the kind of thing you would take a lot of pride in admitting--especially if you're a pastor. But everything changed for me when I started thinking about prayer in a different way. In fact, it's made my prayer life much more vibrant and I no longer doze off when I'm doing it.
I came to the realization that I was missing the point with my prayer life, and that prayer was so much more than me just asking God for things. Pastor and author Brian Zahnd puts it like this, "The primary purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what we think God ought to do, but to be properly formed."
In the Gospel of Luke 11:1-2 we find this interesting exchange between Jesus and his disciples--an exchange that absolutely transformed the world: "Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.' And he said to them, 'When you pray, say...'" And then Jesus goes on to teach them the Lord's Prayer.
Rabbis in the ancient world wouldn't give their disciples theories of prayer, or an open-ended exhortation like, "Just tell God what's on your heart." They would give them a prayer they had composed. The idea was that in order to learn to pray well, and to have your prayer life become transformational, you prayed a prayer written by someone wiser.
I'm still allowing myself to be shaped by this idea of prayer. I think that it's important to tell God what I need, to offer my thanks for what he's given me, to pray for other people's needs, and to even share with God my desires. The Apostle Paul advocated for this kind of relational conversation with God when he said, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances..." (1 Thess 5:16-17)
If I want prayer to form me, however, then I need to approach it differently. It needs to be more than me simply asking God for things--not that I should feel at all bad about my personal conversations with God, because I shouldn't. If I want to grow more fully as a follower of Jesus, my prayer life also needs to be flavored with intentionality, shaped by the words of Christ, guided by the ancient prayers of the psalmists, and the prayers and poems written by people far wiser than me.
So today I want to invite you to enter into this way of thinking about prayer and pray with me the prayer Jesus taught to his disciples: "Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen."