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Last week I was just minding my own business, looking for a new recipe on Pinterest. But as I was scrolling through all the images, I came across something that convicted me. Don’t you hate when that happens?
It was all good until I read this quote: Have you prayed about it as much as you’ve talked about it?
This convicted me because being consistent in my prayer life is something I’ve always struggled with. And often I remember to pray about something long after I’ve talked about it with other people.
It’s not that processing things with friends or seeking wise counsel is wrong at all. I’m a verbal processor, so it’s helpful to talk things through with my friends or my parents. And sharing the details of our lives is part of building relationships. But I often see in my own life that I turn to people first, instead of going to God in prayer.
Last year I got an email, completely out of the blue, about an opening at a company I had interviewed with years ago. My résumé was still on file, and the hiring manager had heard my name before, so he contacted me to see if I was interested in interviewing for the position. If I got the job it would mean selling my house and relocating to a new city. It was a potentially life-changing decision and not one I wanted to take lightly.
My first instinct after I read the email was to call my friend who works for the company and ask him about the position. I wish my first instinct had been to pray and ask God to show me how to proceed. And maybe He would have answered my prayer through the counsel of my friend. But I definitely hadn’t prayed about it before I talked about it. I didn’t create any space to hear God speak into my need for direction and wisdom.
I don’t really know what it looks like to “pray without ceasing“ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But I’m trying to learn, and the words of Brother Lawrence, the author of The Practice of the Presence of God, have helped me.
“The most holy and necessary practice in our spiritual life is the presence of God. That means finding constant pleasure in His divine company, speaking humbly and lovingly with Him in all seasons, at every moment, without limiting the conversation in any way. This is especially important in times of temptation, sorrow, separation from God, and even in times of unfaithfulness and sin. We must try to converse with God in little ways while we do our work, not in memorized prayer, not trying to recite previously formed thoughts. Rather, we should purely and simply reveal our hearts as the words come to us.”
What’s helped you cultivate your prayer life? Do you ever find yourself talking about something more than praying about it?
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I think it kind of depends on the circimstance. For example, if I'm standing, obstructed, in a burning building and there's a firefighter 10 feet away I'm going to yell for help, I'm not going to silently pray that God sends him to me.
I think there are some circumstances where we need to learn when to zip it up and take it to God, but there are other circumstances where God's voice can be clearly heard through listening to the burdens of the hearts of his people. It's not wrong to seek Godly wisdom, and it's not wrong to pray -- but it is wrong to swing to both sides of the pendulum.
For example, you see this in the bible when Jesus talks about those who say to the poor or needy "Go and be well fed, or Go and be clothed" without providing for their need. Sometimes we say "I'll pray about it" and we even do, but our prayers don't really mean anything -- and even though we could stop to help or assist, we omit to do that, thinking that we've taken care of it "with prayer." A good recent example of this pendulum swing are the parents who were arrested for failing to get their dying child adequate medical care relying solely on the power of prayer. Sometimes God parts the veil and works miracles, and sometimes God uses human hands to work his miracles. The discerning Christian learns to consider that both could be a possibility. :)
I have had the benefit of a church community which values prayer. We will frequently stop service to pray for a member that is in need. We have monthly ministry nights, where we listen to the Lord for what He wants to say to people. Our pastor teaches and trains us in this so that we are able to do it in line with the heart of God and without damage to people. We also do what we call "calendar prayer" where we set an alarm in our calendars each week to pray for a need brought up by the church. These are practical ways to cultivate a prayer life.
As I have been discipled one of our common questions when life activities come up is "what does God have to say about it?" which puts the focus for these questions back on my relationship with God. Sometimes there is specific direction, sometimes it's silent, but more often than not I ask Him.
Recently one of my closest friends said "I describe your relationship with God in one word "Conversations"" and that is who He is to me. We talk on walks, we are together in my kitchen singing, we are with friends crying over the loss of loved ones, I ask Him what He wants me to say to people that are struggling, I ask Him what He is doing in situations and how He wants me to pray. I love to pray, and it has taken time and effort and intentionality to cultivate my prayer life, but now that I have there is nothing better.
I think that what is important to remember is that He wants to be in conversation with us, and so we can have confidence that He is listening, the response may not be what we want or expect but that is our problem and not His.
Practically speaking on the issue of cultivation of a prayer life a couple of things:
1. Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby will help teach how to hear God, and will help set the Biblical Foundations for prayer.
2. Just do it. If you can't remember, set an alarm clock.
3. Pick a country in the world and pray for them - not yourself, you will be surprised how quickly your heart aligns with His.
4. Give yourself some grace, it takes practice and intentionality to have a vibrant prayer life, and most likely you will not get it right all the time.
5. Practice, as one of the leaders of a recent prayer gathering I went to said "prayer is a muscle that needs to be stretched".
Yeah there are definitely places for prayer and for action. Sometimes though it takes prayer to determine actions. I do think that we as Americans "pray" for a lot of things and people but never really act otherwise. I think that there's a balance that is needed. We should definitely pray but we also need to act on our prayers (to an extent).
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