Saturday, February 25, 2006

Keeping Prayer Alive

April 22, 2005 - Don't Give Up on Prayer, by Lynn Anderson

A dozen Christian men leaned in around a table discussing something big -- the "P-word," Prayer! "I hate to admit it" James confessed, "but sometimes my schedule gets so hectic I don't really pray much for days." "My problem is a bit different," Brad joined in, " I usually pray fairly regularly. But, my prayers often feel stale and I get into this rut praying the same old things every day." Clarke agreed, "I hear that. Rote, stale, and repetitive. Plus my prayers become narrower and narrower. Here lately I pray mostly about me: my needs, my family, and my ministry. Me!" James, Brad and Clarke (not their real names) were not mere novices in the faith. They were widely respected church leaders! And, of course their struggles are not unique.

Across the country lots of sincere Christians find themselves stuck in similar ruts:* Stale and shallow prayers. * Numbing repetition.* Praying mostly about surface issues.* Narrowing scope of prayer topics.* Praying laundry lists of self-centred wants.* Prayer focused on us rather than on relationship with God.*

Prayer becoming intermittent even badly neglected.Are these dismal swamps inevitable? Maybe not. Part of the problem could be flawed approaches to prayer. We may be attempting quick fixes that cannot pull us permanently out of the prayer doldrums. For example, New year's resolutions don't help. We rarely keep them. Even if we stick with them, prayer often goes numb by April. Or maybe you have set your watch to beep you when it is 'prayer time.' Our you have tried to stand, jog or peddle an exercise bike to stay alert during prayer. Or to pray during drive time, so that red traffic light, is not an annoyance, but a call to prayer. Or to fill each calendar square with a person to pray for that day. Or -- well you make your list. But you have likely discovered that what seemed a helpful crutch in the short run, did not sustain a lasting, vibrant prayer life. Gimmicks won't get it. Believe me. I know. Been there. Done that.

So what is to be done? - Daunting question. But we're going to work on an answer. Let's go deeper! Let's not stop till we find genuine prayer that leads us into the presence of the Father and allows us to "stand on the rim of mystery!" Back at our discussion table, Clarke piped up again, "Yeah. I've been fooled by a bunch of those gimmicks too. But some techniques have really helped. For example, my small accountability group helps me keep my prayer life on track." The circle agreed that they found it nearly impossible even to stay alive spiritually without their small group -- much less flourish. Clarke cautioned, "But, while my group does keep me consistent, it doesn't keep my prayers fresh.""Every time I walk into a Christian book store, " Jim added, "I see a new batch of stuff on prayer. Some I've found somewhat helpful.For example, you've likely used the A.C.T.S. formula. (Begin with adoration. Then confession. Then thanksgiving. Then supplication.) This plan helped me a bunch, but even it doesn't keep my prayers from becoming repetitious and self-consumed."

The group kicked around several helpful prayer methods that day, agreeing that most might be useful to a point. But they also agreed that, "At best humanly generated 'prayer formulae' are always limited. Eventually they all grow stale."Actually, most of the published 'prayer formulae' are simply devotional techniques found useful by their authors. But, since we are not all wired up alike, copycatting another person's devotional disciplines is risky. A prayer formula that helped me may not help you at all. Besides, sometimes after a 'sure fire prayer technique' gets published, even its author finds it has become rote and stale. Prayer 'techniques' which at first look like 'the highway to Holiness', often turn out to be merely blind alleys."So, is it hopeless then?" queried Joe, one of the quieter persons leaning in around our table. "What can be done to keep our prayer lives fresh and vibrant?"

- Daunting question. But, there actually may be an answer! - They all prayed and sang the Psalms!The most tried and true approach to personal prayer renewal is no mere fad or quick fix. And it is often overlooked in our haste to find short cuts. But it is huge. In fact, for three thousand years virtually all the real giants of the faith have one thing in common: They all prayed and sang the Psalms! Scripture underscores this practice. Surely something larger than co-incidence wrote one hundred fifty Psalms into the bosom of our Bibles. And it is not mere coincidence that Psalms flow so freely from the lips of Jesus. And still no coincidence that, even in our day, believers who long for a deeper walk with God will sooner or later turn to the Psalms. Nor that those slimmed down pocket Bibles contain at least the New Testament plus the Psalms.The authors of these timeless poems and songs did not hastily scribble them down on napkins, during some rare moments of religious euphoria. Rather, God-impassioned persons pondered profound 'God-thoughts' over long periods till their 'praisings' and 'beseechings' were eventually distilled into intricately woven Hebrew poetic form. More thoughtful reflections on God cannot be found than in the Psalms. Nor will we find more anguished callings out to Him. The Psalms run deepest, hit truest, last longest, and rise highest as the central column of prayer among the most passionate people of God.
Speaking the & quot;Unspeakable & quot;

Among the first people to point me toward the prayer power of the Psalms was my friend, shepherd and Old Testament scholar, Dr. John T. Willis. Dr. Tony Ash enriched this understanding. Another friend, Randy Harris, later alerted me to the riches of reading the psalms aloud, and pointed out that by reading five psalms a day, we move though all one hundred fifty in a month. Then, Eugene Petersen in his book Answering God, provided me a sort of map for praying the psalms. For Petersen, most of the Bible is God's word to us, but the Psalms are our divinely given answer back to God. For the guidance of these dear 'Psalm pilgrims,' I shall be forever grateful.For years now, I have intermittently 'prayed the Psalms.' But it was not until 1998 that two major speaking assignments nudged me into a yearlong, life-changing adventure with them. I was assigned four keynote messages on worship for the July 1999 Nashville Jubilee. Jerry Rushford also assigned me Psalm 23, for what he called, "the last Pepperdine lecture of the millennium," April 99.

My preparation took me through numerous volumes on worship. But, far more significantly -- during 1998-99 I lived for a year in the Psalms, praying five psalms every day. I did not just run through them. I wallowed down into them, and most days, stayed there till 'God showed up.' - During that year of red-blooded adventure, I discovered several powerful values and advantages of praying the Psalms.One of the powerful advantages of the Psalms is that they help us speak the unspeakable. I discovered that the Psalms supply words for my tsunami level feelings when my own words fail me. Poetry reaches its inspired best in the Psalms.The Psalms, after all, are poetry. And poetry does not aim to spell things out specifically or in linear sequence, nor in proposition. Rather, poetry gathers up inexpressibly gigantic things into sounds and suggestions and images, and launches them in the general direction of expression. Of course, for believers, poetry reaches its inspired best in the Psalms. Sometimes even the cadence, the sound of the Psalm, like the sound of music, engages soul-deep feelings, which cannot be expressed, in mere words.The famous ballerina, Anna Pavlova was once asked by an adoring fan, "Anna, when you danced, what were you saying." Pavlova replied, "If I could tell you, I wouldn't need to dance."Classic worshippers of the centuries might say, "If I could say all of what I experience, I wouldn't need the imagery, the poetry, and the sound of the Psalms." In the subterranean geography of my world rumble passions which defy my feeble vocabulary and my bland imagery. The poetry of the Psalms often express these gargantuan feelings for me when nothing else can. Besides expressing the inexpressible, the Psalms also often surface enormously significant feelings I did not even know where there. They help put me in touch with buried issues. Of course this kind of help will not come out of a superficial reading of the Psalms -- not even from the first few thoughtful readings. But given time, the Psalms begin to speak the unspeakable for us. Surely this is one huge reason God gave them to us. And one good reason to pray the psalms.

Used by permission. (C) 2001, Lynn Anderson,
Reflective Thought: I found the above message so true & refreshing. We often sing the song "As the deer panteth for the water so my heart panteth after thee." Please know God so desires you to make time with Him. Many will not have time to read five Psalms a day. The very busy person may only be able to read one Psalm some only one verse. One of my friends has young children & leaves a post it note were she reads then picks up from that point next time. One friend can only make it once a week another once a month when she has a babysitter & spends several hours in quiet time. Remember your time with the Lord & reading the word is about 'quality not quantity' try it you will be so blessed.