Writing to free the prisoner of one idea, crossing the bridge of paradox to truth, serving the legacies of Chesterton and Lewis who defended their faith in Christ
“That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray be…, I pray because the…the need flows from me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, but it changes me.” – C. S. Lewis, Shadowlands
Our Purpose and Preparation for Praying
C. S. Lewis confesses the observation above about prayer to his friend and minister at Oxford in the Sir Richard Attenborough film, Shadowlands. He is confronted with his wife, Joy’s, metastasized bone cancer, very advanced. And as he draws closer to God for support, he realizes an astounding thing: The closer we draw to God the more we need Him, that God uses each and every situation we experience in the physical world to woo and pursue us in order to experience this surpassing intimacy with Him. He is shaping us, as a Master Potter does with clay, into Sons of God. (Romans 8:14) The power through love we are to experience then makes what we receive now as followers of Christ but a shadow. With that end in mind, we peer through the glass darkly and dimly realize that self-denial and sacrifice – discipline now – are the path to the reality of His future and fully-realized gift to us. We learn from Him that instant gratification and prideful arrogance that masquerade as the power of earthly godship in the lives of others is but a sad and destructive substitute for our yearning. Now we are not ready, but then we will be to receive such a gift. As we persist in praying and He hears our requests and grants them (when we ask according to His will and purpose for us), we see the shape of our future reality more clearly with each prayer’s passing. As we confess our sins and are shown the path to real repentance, our burdens are lifted through active forgivness: we can leave the humanly unchangeable at the alter of God, we are transformed to go back and make right with others and ourselves what we can by His empowering Holy Spirit. We are comforted even as our faith is tested and our selfish wills are conformed to His. Then our faith in Him, faith that also leaves room for doubt (or it would not be faith), grows stronger. As C. S. Lewis discovers: we are changed by prayer.
A Place To Pray
When describing how to pray, Jesus talks about a prayer closet. (Matthew 6:5,6) I would like to emphasize that it is a necessary thing for all Christians to set aside some space in their homes that is dedicated and sacred to God, a place to pray where you can go and “shut the door” upon the world and be with your heavenly Father alone. This area can be as simple as a small table in the living room or an area set aside in a clothes closet.
In many Eastern Orthodox homes a small table is set aside, covered with some white linen and adorned with a cross and some candles with an icon of Jesus. Usually, this area is blessed by the priest of their church along with the rest of the house. In other homes of Protestant denomination, some convert a small area in a clothes closet or similar enclosed space and dedicate it to the Lord. If able, we go to church on Sunday and other smaller gatherings throughout the week and usually someone else, the Priest or Minister is leading those prayers, but you and I are admonished to “pray without ceasing” so we are responsible for all other times. We need, then, a place to pray at home, to offer thanksgiving and praise and seek our Lord for strength “…to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring….and to obtain “..forgiveness of sins which we have committed this day in thought, word, and deed.” Then, also, to pray for the church, our rulers, our towns and cities,* our country, the world, our pastors and priests, our families and friends, the old, the young, the unborn, the needy, the orphans, the widows, the sick and afflicted, those in sorrow and distress, the imprisoned and persecuted, those in military service, travelers, and those in missions.
What Do I Need?
First, a space, somewhere you know you can set up a small table or even a makeshift of a shelf and two pedestals to support it. Make sure it is high enough to meet your chest for the alter area and wide enough to be able to hold a Cross, a prayer journal, some candles and matches, your Bible, and any family pictures and spiritual remembrances that are important reminders of occasions that the Lord has done something special for you or your family. I have 12 stones set below a frame of the forty-sixth Psalm to remind me of a day the Lord made a promise to me in prayer as I made a commitment to Him. What you have may be different. Always make a point from now on to create reminders of the special moments in your life and family when the Lord has provided for you and rescued you. Then teach your family to hand these stories down from generation to generation to preserve a rich tradition of faith in your heavenly Father that links you and your family with the servants of God listed in the Bible.
Next, create an atmosphere of holiness as you pray. Find some appropriate worship music to play in the background from a source you can easily hear as you’re praying but not disturb your concentration. You may have some on CD or tape. Or you may find something appropriate on Internet Radio. Whatever you decide, make sure that it is conducive to reflective prayer and worshipful of our heavenly Father.
How Do I Pray?
Have you ever wanted to pray and found you just could not find the words? Perhaps you are a little shy. I know from experience that when praying and fasting for a person or a situation, I sometimes have run out of words, though I knew I needed to persist in prayer. Of course, it is easy to ask for the Holy Spirit to step in and help you “with groanings unuttered.” And there are sometimes when this approach is absolutely necessary. But keep in mind that our prayer life and our intimacy grows with God when we exert the effort just as it does in our human relationships.
There are many prayers that your church often prints in their church bulletin that you can use. Some churches, like the Eastern Orthodox church have brochures such as the “Prayers in Times of Need” which have a small worship service printed out for you to use as a guide in your morning and evening devotionals. Some, including myself, do as Dr. Ravi Zacharias suggests and read a spiritual essay before their daily Bible reading and then set time aside with the Lord to pray before their day starts. This engages the mind and the spirit and allows God Himself to more readily direct your prayers so that “..if you ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” The book of Psalms is a ready made list of prayers that touches on every problem and joy experienced in the human condition. Those can be prayed with your name or the loved one inserted verbally to our Lord.
Along with my Bible reading, I have a number of Christian prayer cards, ranging on prayer needs such as repentance, struggle over sin, prayers that birth revival for city and country, biblical virtues to pray for your children, powerful prayers for your husband (or wife), and prayers for prodigals. These can be obtained as gifts or by visiting the web site.
How Prayer Changes Us
Prayer, especially persistent prayer, changes us by testing our character and closing the gaps. Our faith increases as we become less dependent on ourselves for manufacturing a less than satisfactory outcome to our problems. Our trust, also, becomes unshakable in the process of surrendering ourselves to His Will. It is not an easy process, indeed, it is far more challenging to pray in our instant gratification world than ever it was in the past. But prayer is the only way to our becoming closer to our heavenly Father. And He is the only one who can help us through the things of this earthly experience that are beyond our human endurance and control. Don’t ever give up or listen to naysayers, even in impossible circumstances. Be as diligent as Elijah and go back and “look seven times” to see if God has answered your prayers (1 Kings 18:43, 44). Show Jesus upon His return that you really do have the faith He will be looking for.
Till next time.
God bless you. Dilseacht, le gra go deo
* Currently, Faith, Hope, and Love International is promoting a 40-day prayer for the city of Indianapolis. Please join us in prayer and help support Faith, Hope, and Love Week, 2008