I haven’t got any wise words on this subject – I am just muddling along like the rest of us. There are some things that draw us to prayer, and some things that draw us to the Bible (or to our source of wisdom if not the Bible – what’s yours?) and also to our most constant sources of pleasure.
Reading is a source of pleasure that, for some reason, I have not had the leisure really to avail myself of over the last couple of weeks. But I have occasionally been dipping into a book by Don Carson, ‘A Call to Spiritual Reformation’, and I am both challenged and struck by his even-handed call to prayer. It is full of wise and sensible comments such as:’All of us would be wiser if we would resolve never to put people down, except on our prayer lists.’ I know some people are a little cynical about prayer lists, and say that they’ve moved on. Whenever I come BACK to prayer, writing a prayer list is one of the first things I do.
While I would not say the book is for a beginner in the faith (if you’re looking for a great book on prayer for beginners, I imagine that Pete Grieg’s ‘How to Pray’ would be a great starting point), he does make basic observations that are helpful to everyone:
When you are converted, you want to do what you didn’t want to do before, and you don’t want to do what you wanted to do before. There’s a change in the heart; there’s a cleaning up, a change in orientation, and holiness becomes attractive, instead of something you have to put up with to figure out what you can get away with. As long as young people are asking, ‘Can I get away with this?’ or ‘Can I get away with that?’ I wonder if they’re regenerate. If they’re asking, instead, ‘How can I grow in holiness?’ then I suspect they’ve begun to understand.
He explores the prayers of Paul in the epistles to look at how we can pray better and more like Jesus. It is reasonable – it’s not a guilt-trip. But at the same time, there is nothing more useful both for themselves and for the world, that a Christian can do, than to be close to their Lord, and able to put in a word or two for others.
The book is a delight to read – I had certainly read these words before but not realised where they came from:
If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.
The best prayer is the prayer we pray with no self-interest. And the most intimate prayer is when we express our love for God, without wanting something back. It’s the cry of joy to the Father, that just thanks Him for life, for Himself. We are to love the giver, rather than the gift. We are to take our eyes totally off ourselves, and to adore the Lily of the Valley.
A while ago, I was reading in an occasional way through Samuel Rutherford’s Letters. Through some means or other (perhaps Spurgeon) attention had been drawn to these. They are notable not so much for who he writes to, but for the richness of his intimacy with Jesus, and the powerful and unremitting way he expresses his love. I highly recommend them to give you a richer glimpse of what love for the Saviour looks like. He is the one, as J. John says.
So without wanting to keep you too long, I just wanted to put a marker in the sand, as it were, and say something about corona. For me, as a believer, the challenge before God is the same as it ever was. To love Him the most, as the only one, and to pray for and love the world as well. How can I step up a gear in my spiritual life, as I know that Jesus is calling me to at this time? What does that look like, during corona lockdown? Am I deliberately carving out time to be with him, to put down the phone and go to the throne (to misquote someone in our church!)? What does online fellowship look like? And how can I not only fellowship online with other believers, but share the good news? To bring hope, to bring joy, to bring truths that do not fade? When all around is being shaken, what things do I know will remain? God’s goodness, the offer of eternal life through Jesus, for anyone who believes. Jesus died on the cross for ALL who will believe.
If you will reach out, God will reach out to you. If you feel a prompting within you now, then respond to the Holy Spirit with everything you have.
A prayer to close: Thank you Jesus for a new day, a new start even in the middle of a global pandemic. Give me the grace, the humility, the selflessness, to love you Jesus today, and to set my eyes on heaven, even if everything around me starts to get stripped away. Set my joy on You Lord, not on material things, not on my role, not on my relationships. Amen.
You have ravished my heart,
My sister, my spouse;
You have ravished my heart
With one look of your eyes,
With one link of your necklace. (Song of Solomon, 4:9)