My prayer life is where my Christian life is tested. And i hate to admit it, but i’ve been failing the test. It’s honestly a blessing to both me and the church at large that God has yet to grant me a pastoral leadership position.
When my prayer life falters, my life falters. When my prayer life falters, i can’t lead my family the way i’m called to lead them (cf. 1 Timothy 3:5). When my prayer life falters, i fail to love my wife as i should. When my prayer life falters, i fail to be the dad i should be (and my son is less than 4 weeks old, so i still have the opportunity to nip this in the bud!).
However–much more important than those categories–when my prayer life falters, i am sinning against God.
I’m 29, almost 30. My prayer life has been jacked for the past 17 years (11 as a Christian). And, ironically enough, it was my lack of a prayer life that helped convince me in 2011 that i hadn’t “rededicated” my life in 2010; i’m convinced i was saved for the first time in 2010. However, my prayer life has been almost as pathetic in the past eleven years as it was the six years prior.
I suffered a stroke when i was two. It ruined my childhood dreams of wanting to be a professional baseball player. However, initially–having grown up in church since the day i was born–i prayed for healing. Jesus healed people in the Bible; church is about Jesus and the Bible; he should be able to do it for me–right? Well, it never happened, so i gave up on prayer. (If you’re interested in more details of my story, you can grab my “autobiographical” novel here [the ebook is on sale for a limited time].) And after an intial resurgence of my prayer life in 2010/2011, it wasn’t long before it fizzled out again. My best friend–Joey1–showed no sign of wanting to return to Jesus. And then, add to the list an almost ten year (as a Christian) hunt for a woman to be my wife, and i’d all but thrown in the towel that God would ever answer that prayer. (It’s the only prayer i ever prayed with any consistency post-salvation.)
This might explain why my prayer life has suffered so greatly in my first year of marriage. God finally answered my prayer in the way i desired. I got what i wanted. And like a stupid animal (i’m specifically thinking of my cats), who only cares about me when it wants something (usually food) from me (cf. Psalm 32:9), I essentially cast God aside.
But i recently picked up a book commenting on Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of “The Lord’s Prayer” (or “The Disciple’s Prayer, or the “Our Father,” or the “Pater Noster“), and in the introduction, i was slapped in the face with this beautiful statement:
It is God who prays. Not just God who answers prayers but God who prays in us in the first place. In prayer, we become the locus of the dialogue between the Father and the Son.2
And thus, i understand why Paul cautions as He does in 1 Thessalonians 5:19.
Don’t stifle the Spirit.
Why should we not stifle the Spirit? Because the Spirit inside us wants to commune with Father and Son!
Now, to be fair, the Spirit always has perfect communion with the Father and Son–whether we pray or not. But the simple fact of the matter is that when we pray we join in on this Trinitarian communion, and when we fail to pray, our life reflects it, and the Spirit–who dwells inside of us–is forced to live alongside the filth we shovel in, instead of helping up shovel out filth through the discipline of prayer (cf. 1 Peter 5:7; 1 Corinthians 6:15, 19; Matthew 12:43-45). This is why the prior two verses of 1 Thessalonians 5 are the key to understanding all three:
Pray constantly.1 Thessalonians 5:17-19
Give thanks in everything,
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Don’t stifle the Spirit.
Let’s start in the middle and draw a few conclusions.
God’s will is for us to have vital prayer lives. God’s will is that we not stifle the Spirit by failing to pray. God’s will is that we even simply just thank Him for His many benefits. When I fail to pray, when I’m too lazy or upset even to count my blessings, I stifle the Spirit of God and fail to live in God’s will.
How many things are there to thank God for? Paul says “in everything.” Even thanking God for each breath and every heartbeat (not just of ourselves but of our loved ones) would be a full-time prayer list. Add to this all of God’s other blessings, and my failure to thank God–even for the next meal i eat–is stifling the Spirit and failing to live in God’s will.
And then we come to the topic of ‘Praying constantly.” It’s already been proven that there are enough things to thank God for in a given minute to never cease praying, but there’s even more to this concept than that. As the book i’ve been reading explains:
[W]hen we are engaged in good works, actively helping people in need, and no longer able to pray in the strict sense of the word, we are still, according to St Thomas, in some real sense living within the grace of prayer—still praying—because, as he remarks, ‘we make the prayers of the poor our own by the help we give them.’ That said, however, works of mercy in themselves are no substitute for actually taking time to speak to God in prayer.3
This is loaded with applications. When we tell someone we are praying for them, that is all fine and dandy, but it’s not enough. If it is in our power, then we must do something to help the person achieve the object of their request (cf. 1 John 3:17-18; James 2:15-17). This is a simple extension of Jesus’ words in Mark 11:24,
Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.
It comes back to faith. If you pray for something and pursue the means to the end, it shows you have faith that God will answer your prayer. If you pray for something and then turn around and pursue things directly counter to your prayer, it shows God that you weren’t actually serious about your prayer.
This has described me for far too long!
A final note on prayer: I often self-conscious myself out of praying: “God doesn’t want to hear me pray about this again. I’ve asked so many times. He’s certainly sick of hearing it.” This is a horrible way to think. Look at James 1:5.
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him
God gives “without criticizing.”
This is huge! In other words, God doesn’t groan, “Oh, it’s you again, asking about the same old thing. Are you stupid? You should have gotten past this a long time ago!”
No. God is gracious, and He’s loving. Just as a loving parent changes their newborn’s diaper every time he/she needs it changed (monotonously), so also God is even more loving and willing to hear us and help us through the same old things that we’ve already come to Him for countless times!
We have no excuse to not pray!
My prayer life is under construction, and as a result, so is my Christian life. I trust that God will bring me out stronger on the other side, though i desperately hope there’s never a day i fail to take prayer seriously again.
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
- Name changed for privacy.
- Herbert McCabe, quoted in Robert Barron, “Foreword,” in Praying with Confidence: Aquinas on the Lord’s Prayer (New York: Continuum, 2010), x–xi.
- Paul Murray, Praying with Confidence: Aquinas on the Lord’s Prayer (New York: Continuum, 2010), 46.
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