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ss nucleus - autumn 1996,  How's your prayer life?

How's your prayer life?

I would like to change my 'prayer-life' to a 'life-of-prayer'. This is not mere sophistry. Prayer should not be restricted to that half hour before bed, or even a pious hour in the early morning. It is something that should be so natural for the Christian, and as essential, as each heartbeat. If I am one with the Lord (Jn 17; Rom 8), married to him (Eph 5), indwelt by his spirit, then he should be a constant feature of my life and thoughts. If this was a human relationship, would we not naturally expect it to be like this? I should know his closeness all the day, talking to him, referring everything to him and listening to him. I believe that this is the essence of Paul's exhortation to the Thessalonians to 'pray without ceasing' (1 Thes 5:17 NKJV) and similarly to the Philippians: 'In everything by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds'(4:6 NKJV). This is also David's prayer: 'One thing I ask...that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life' (Ps 27:4). How this is achieved is quite another matter!

To talk to God is amazing! Astoundingly the sacrifice of Jesus tore down all the barriers between man and God and made us fit to be brought near to him (Heb 10:19-22). What's more, not only are we invited and commanded to talk to him, but the Bible suggests that this is why we were made. That our heavenly Father waits for us to communicate is almost beyond belief. I think we forget this very easily. We begin to think that there are rituals to be followed, states of mind or body to get ourselves into, something somehow has to be worked up. Yet all we have to do is speak. I'm not advocating total irreverence here, but I feel a certain lack of formality is justified if not necessary.

I think we need a whole new way of thinking. Somehow, I have to learn to remind myself of his continual presence with me. One obvious reminder is the Bible; surely we cannot detach the author from his words. Another that occurs to me is meditation; no, not some airy-fairy notion, but thinking about God, (who he is, what he's said or done) is a pretty good motivation for talking to him. If only we could learn to remember him through ordinary everyday things like wandering around the ward or making the tea. Brother Lawrence is famed for praying while washing up. Perhaps if I didn't have the radio on I might pray more. I'm particularly bad for agreeing to pray for someone and then forgetting (1 Sa 12:23). If I do it at the time however, if I learn to refer people to him as they cross my mind, then maybe I'll actually do it. Similarly, I quite often find myself making a mental note to pray about something and then realising that he's right there listening.

Of course, we should not give up set times of prayer, otherwise we'd be in danger of not doing it at all. To be too legalistic about it, however, is suggestive of a false notion of retribution for failure or performance-related blessing. Yes, he wants us to talk to him, but I don't believe that he is standing there with some ethereal rolling pin. Rather we should spend time with him, combined with reading the Scriptures, because we love him. We need to do these things in order to grow. Jesus himself compares it to eating. It's funny that we don't often forget to eat. Maybe we should pray for help to remember to pray as well as help to pray, just like the disciples did. Maybe in the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2) we will be made more like we should be in this respect, but that verse has the implication of action too. So perhaps even discipline is required, much as I hate the thought. On its own, however, discipline will only go so far. What we really need is grace.

We also need grace in the times when we do not feel his presence with us. Sometimes his presence is almost palpable but at others we wonder if there is anyone there at all. Although it's hard when emotions are missing, they are not reliable indicators of our closeness to God. To know the truth in our minds and to have faith is far more important; the feelings can catch up later. We need to remember that his words are always true, regardless of what we may feel: 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you' (Heb 13:5), 'where can I flee from your presence?' (Ps 139:7), 'I am with you always, even to the end of the age' (Mt 28:20 NKJV).

Of course, the few times I've ever felt this close to God have been when life has been so hard that that bond, communication and peace have been vital. We need to learn to keep that contact when life is going well, to stay in the arms of love when the storm has passed. As I grow in the knowledge of him, as I become more like Jesus, I hope this will become easier, and more like my heartbeat.

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