But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Matt 6:6 NKJV
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thess 5:16-18 NKJV
Some columns are written to leaders and others are for those we try to lead. This one is for all of us. We all need to pray. Some of us need to pray more, others need to pray more regularly and others need to make a new start at the whole enterprise.
The words of Jesus and Paul challenge us and stir our hearts. Jesus says, "The Father is in the Secret Place of Prayer." Paul adds, "Pray without ceasing." But how? Where do we find the Secret Place? How do we even attempt a life built around prayer?
These words have challenged believers since Jesus spoke them and Paul wrote them. In this column and the next I want to share principles on the Life of Prayer that I learned while writing my doctoral thesis, Experiment In Prayer: The Convergence of Fixed Prayers with Extemporaneous Praying.
I believe Jesus' teaching on prayer in the Secret Place is the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. And, to me, the Sermon on the Mount is the constitution of the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke of believers who, when they were sued for a shirt would surrender a cloak as well. They would go two miles when only one was demanded and would turn the other cheek when struck hard in the face. Private prayer, The Secret Place, is the furnace that would forge such lives of steel. This is not the power-mongering prayer of the religious leaders of the day or the market place praying of the hypocrites or the theatrical giving of alms, but this is Secret Place prayer, where no one hears or sees but the Father in Heaven.
Paul has the authority to instruct us in the Life of Prayer. He was a man of continual prayer. He was schooled in Jewish prayer and, when he became a Christian, found a new, more intense and effective form of prayer when he learned to pray in/by the Holy Spirit. We see in the book of Acts the various crises of his life. We see him praying in jail at midnight, aboard ship in a storm, and in public ministry with great power and effect. In his letters to the churches we get a glimpse of his private prayer life: with understanding and with the spirit, without ceasing, with great revelation, and with an expectation of signs and wonders. His powerful public life sprang from a power private life of prayer.
Jesus brought a new era of relationship with God because he brought an understandable revelation of God the Father, a real forgiveness of sin through the cross and a real helper in the Holy Spirit. He said that worship, which includes prayer, would not be in ceremony and tradition alone. These can be performed outwardly with no sincere action of the heart. New Covenant worship, on the other hand, would be done in spirit and in truth. This spirituality is internal before it is external. This is an inner spirituality of integrity, honesty and humility formed by the Word of God, the truth that sets us free, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This cannot be faked for God Himself is the object and He cannot be fooled. Now, to the first three of the eight secrets I discovered.
The first secret of the Secret Place is to be absolutely alone with the Father. Being alone with God bars any possibility of performance praying. If another person can hear our words, this affects the way we pray. Find a time, a chair, a room, a corner, a couch in your home and let every body know of your time and place, your personal appointment with Abba Father. Most likely your family will be happy to help you pray more!
Silence is the searchlight of the soul. The voice of the Lord is heard in the human spirit when we quiet our souls. Noise is the enemy of the Secret Place. I avoid music with word associations as background. If I am inwardly singing, I am not being silent. Our culture hates silence and our souls have been shaped in its image. But our spirit was created in the image of God and craves the silence of creation wherein is heard the voice of God.
Together, these two secrets imply a schedule, set times of prayer each day. From age to age in the history of worship these times ranged from twice daily to up to seven times a day. The biblical and historical minimum seems to be twice daily: morning and evening. The idea is to frame each day in prayer. My doctoral thesis project attempted this schedule and, predictably, found it almost impossible. Yet, in our busy lives, events that are not scheduled tend not to happen. One of the advantages of attempting morning and evening prayer was the chance to do one if the other was missed. The people in my study group ending up praying more often than when they attempted one prayer time each day.
3. Scripture: Recite the Word of God
Prayer is so much more than asking God for things. Crisis praying doesn't have to be taught; it is an automatic impulse born in the emergency before us. Daily private prayer, however, must be learned. It is a spiritual exercise for the inner person, peformed in daily obedience to prepare us for the crisis. Praying the Scriptures has a vital role in this strengthening discipline. Many of us hold to traditions formed in the modern age, (from the 17th to the 20th centuries) and we have not learned to pray the Scriptures. But Jesus and His disciples prayed the Psalms and other passages as a matter of course. This was the normal practice of devoted Christians until the second wave of the Reformation, the 1600's, when the Puritans and other like-minded groups reformed the Reformation. Because recited prayers were so terribly abused in the Medieval church, the whole concept was thrown out. Today we need to reclaim this powerful discipline.
In the ancient church the leaders formed an axiom: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, est--"The Rule of Prayer is the Rule of Faith." In other words, what we pray reveals and forms what we believe. Great theology (right beliefs about God) springs from great doxology (proper praise of God). Another truth from the ancient church was lectio divina--the prayerful reading of the Scripture in which one hears the voice of God in the spoken words of Scripture. Today we also need to rehearse the revelation in Scripture of who God is and what He has promised. This is not "vain" repetition, but a purposeful rehearsal of truth so that it can go deep enough into us to set us free.
The next column will continue this teaching.
FF# 116 2006 Stephen R. Phifer
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