Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Lifestyle of Prayer

Dear Friends,

I grew up in our family’s Episcopal Church. That was back when it looked far more like the Anglican Church of England than what the Episcopal Church looks like today. Halfway between Luther’s and Calvin’s reformed Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, our “high church” liturgical service was in English but otherwise almost indistinguishable from a Roman Catholic service. All prayer was read by the priest from the prayer book with appropriate responses by the congregation. Prayer was a ritual and any prayer outside of the church walls was usually the recitation of a written prayer that had been memorized. I faithfully recited the Lord’s Prayer every night before falling asleep. Sixty-plus years later, I still do. I’ll never forget the first time I went to a non-liturgical, Pentecostal service and we gathered in prayer groups like we do in our church. I was terrified. It wasn’t just the heart-pounding thought of praying out loud in front of others. How in heaven’s name can a person pray without a prayer book to read from?

But in the ancient church, prayer was a natural as breathing. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church to Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 And Paul wasn’t asking the impossible! He was encouraging them to keep on doing what they’d always done! Prayer is no longer a ritual for me but a lifestyle  and now my own constant prayers throughout the day have become the background music of my life. Oswald Chambers was an early twentieth-century Scottish Baptist and Holiness Movement teacher and evangelist, best known for the devotional MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST. He wrote, “Think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts. Our blood flows and our breathing continues ‘without ceasing’; we are not even conscious of it, but it never stops...Prayer is not an exercise; it is the life of the saint. It is coming into perfect fellowship and oneness with God.”

German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that true prayer originates in the heart of God and is revealed in His Word. We breathe the language of prayer because the Holy Spirit Himself teaches it to us. True prayer isn’t just about me and God is not a cosmic vending machine that automatically gives us everything we want when we deposit our prayer quarter and pull the lever. That’s why we seek God’s will and pray: Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Prayer is prompted by God. Modeled by Jesus Christ. Inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

British novelist and theologian, C.S. Lewis was a devoted member of the Anglican Church of England and he treasured the Church’s BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. So do I. I've found the CELTIC DAILY PRAYER from the Northumbria Community in Ireland to be a wealth of prayers. The GLENSTAL BOOK OF PRAYER from an Irish Benedictine monastery is written in the earthy Celtic tradition. I deeply appreciate and use the prayer books of the Eastern Orthodox Church which so beautifully reflect the majesty and mystery of the earliest liturgies in the ancient church. As we are inspired by hearing well-articulated prayers spoken by a person, we are inspired by reading well-written prayers. If your tastes run to the contemporary and charismatic, many have been encouraged and inspired by Sarah Young’s: JESUS CALLING – Enjoying Peace In His Presence.

Some of us have been in churches that harshly denounced the use of written prayers as being ritualistic and shallow but we must remember that Jesus prayed extemporaneous prayers and He also prayed the prayers written by King David and others. Jesus and the earliest Christians read and sang from their “worship book,” that contains 150 prayers which cover every conceivable emotion and circumstance. When our own prayers fail. When the darkness closes in and we find it difficult to even find the words to pray, Jesus’ prayer book will always be our best resource. You already have one of those ancient prayer books of course. It’s located in the center of your Bible to make it easy to find and it’s called the BOOK OF PSALMS.

Let your prayers become the ambient background of your life as you walk through your day. Many of us say grace before a meal but let your “grace” – your thanksgiving for your food and your blessing of it, extend to everything that God has given you. Say grace over your family. Thank God for them and ask Him to bless them. Say grace over your day, your house, your health, and even the books you read and the chores you do. For as Paul said, “pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks.” Amen?

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