Saturday, June 18, 2005

Thinking God's Thoughts After Him (Ch 3)

Prayer, as a subject, can evoke frustration and guilt even after years now of walking with Christ. “To pray is to change. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.” These thoughts in Celebration of Discipline Ch 3 The Discipline of Prayer ring true. Yet, I often struggle with a conflict between what I think I see in the scriptures and some of what I observe that others, even Richard Foster, have to say on the topic.

I think my concerns in the chapter may grow out of baggage I bring into the dialogue on prayer, more so, than what the author may be saying. I can be overly sensitive if I hear overtones that seem to imply that prayer manipulates God or sets up an extra-biblical measuring rod of good, best, and better praying. Yet, in the case of this chapter in Celebration of Discipline, I find the author’s follow on comments sometimes explain his thoughts in ways that show my concern was unjustified. For example, the illustrations of saints “ devoting two hours daily to the sacred exercise” or “withdrawing …seven times a day in order to engage in the holy work of prayer” set up an internal dialogue that, at first, left me feeling discouraged and inadequate in prayer. Yet, reading further, I found that Foster was seeking to encourage the reader – not discourage- and I was just too quick on the trigger.

That said, I did have trouble with some of the comments on learning to pray. The main sticking point was his quote, “For years I had prayed for many things and with great intensity, but with only marginal success. But then I saw that I might possibly be doing some things wrong and could learn differently.” Should the matter of praying be so overly complicated that we miss the point for years? Isn’t prayer – even as part of the disciplined path of grace- a supernaturally natural response of a living creation - indwelt by God and made new in Christ- to his Creator? Is the model prayer of Christ in Matthew 6 so complex that we miss how to pray?

Clearly, God has shown Himself to be one who actively pursues His creation, has made provision for our sin, is keenly interested in fellowshipping with us and desires that we glorify and delight in Him. Are the words I say and not ending some prayers with “If it be Thy will” the real issue? Or, is the real issue the God to whom I pray? Is He “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” or not? Does He respond better when I dot my spiritual “i”(s) and cross my spiritual “t”(s), or, is what matters most that I come to Him as a child to his Father and pray in keeping with His will? (Maybe you guys can help reconcile this point? It doesn’t seem to line up with my limited understanding or even with Foster’s later comments on “not making prayer too complicated”. )

Moving on, there is little question that the good observations in this chapter far outweigh my possibly unfounded concerns. One such point was the danger of “an everything is fixed and can’t be changed belief that leaves no room for the move of God and the response of God to prayer”. This was a real biggie for me. I see the sovereignty of God throughout the pages of scripture and, if not careful, can be tempted to avoid the holding of truth in tension that faith in Him requires. This can squelch a sense of urgency to pray.

Sometimes, I think I want a system of beliefs that fit neatly together like Legos or Lincoln Logs. But, I don’t believe God gives us this option. We are to worship Him and not a system of theology. We are to know and seek Him as living God and interact with Him in His Word. We are not to treat His written revelation as a jigsaw puzzle that we figure out and set aside to gather dust; rather, we are to pursue Him and be changed by Him into the image of Christ. Therefore, given that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours, I must be willing to hold His revealed truth – when required- in tension and, for me, petitioning God – who is sovereign and all-knowing- is one of these tensions.

The chapter was a good reminder that - even if I can’t reconcile God’s sovereignty with His exhortation to pray - I must pray and He will answer. This is sobering; moreover, it is humbling. Why would Sovereign God involve His creation in His work in this world? Yet, I don’t have to figure this out. I only need to do as He says and pray. I can say, “Father, I don’t understand it but You exhort me to pray – so Lord I trust You and ask _______ “. Moreover, am I really surprised that God, who is “intimately acquainted with all my ways” desires that I talk with and listen to Him?

The Kierkegaard quote, “A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening.” underscores the listening aspect of prayer. Foster augments the point by saying, “Listening to the Lord is the first thing, the second thing, and the third thing necessary for successful intercession.” And, this “necessary prelude” makes sense when I consider God and His desire that you and I be in fellowship with Him.

In the end, prayer is something we learn and is a learning process that sets us free to question, experiment, and grow. “In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after Him: to desire the things He desires, to love the things He loves, to will the things He wills. Progressively, we are taught to see things from His point of view.” Praying takes place in the context of a living relationship with God. It isn’t a tool I take out of the tool chest simply to advance spiritually. It’s more akin to breathing. Knowing that it is a discipline that I learn and grow in is an important observation. The “Lord, teach us to pray” quote from Luke 11 was freeing and a good point to make. How often I forget that sanctification – and growth in the disciplines- is a process.

Anyway, I need to wrap up. I’m late in posting and apologize if these thoughts are a little “half baked”. Please sort through the ramblings and let me know, by your comments, if any of this rings true. In the meantime, I look forward to logging on and reading your thoughts on this week’s chapter and I pray all is well with you.


Blogger Paula said...

Yes. some of it rings true. Thanks for rambling.


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