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Monday, September 21, 2009

A Praying Life

I recently read "A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World" by Paul Miller.  It was so beautifully written that I underlined thoughts on nearly every page. More importantly, it is the kind of book that has changed my walk with God. It has helped open my eyes to some incorrect ways I have been viewing God that have manifested in my prayer life. I have walked away with a better understanding of what it means to have a relationship with God. The book contains helpful tools for prayer, without the guilt and legalism. The author humbly, warmly, and humorously draws from his own life throughout the book in such a way that helped me visualize application as well as helped me simply enjoy the book. In some ways, it reminded me a lot of a modern day "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence. I know I will re-visit this book.

There are so many thoughts I appreciated in the book.   At the end of this post is a little snippet from Miller where he talks about the role of biblical community in discerning the will of God in the details of our lives (this was not a huge part of what the book was about, but it was one of the many parts that got me thinking).

Praying and assessing our situation in light of what Scripture says is our first step in discerning the will of God in any situation in which we find ourselves.  However, consulting mature believers is also an important part of consulting God-- as Scripture tells us our hearts are deceitful, our sin is deceitful, and seeking godly counsel is wise and profitable.  Here are some Scriptures that discuss this concept:

Jeremiah 17: 9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."

Hebrews 13:12-13 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Proverbs 11:14 “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Proverbs 15:22 “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Here is what Miller had to say in pages 142-144 of his book (I bolded the part that most struck me):

…we balk at praying, “God I want a vacation home. Would you get me one?” We don’t mind “acting” selfishly, but “talking” selfishly is embarrassing. After all, we aren’t little children anymore. A vacation home is so beyond the purview of daily bread that it feels presumptions to ask God for one.

So what do we do instead of asking God for a vacation home? We look at our finances, talk to a realtor, and go buy one—all without seriously praying about the decision. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying buying a vacation house is inherently sinful. God delights in giving his children good gifts, including vacation homes. But he wants to be part of the decisions we make. He wants our material needs o draw us into our soul needs. That is what it means to abide—to include him in every aspect of our lives.

Abiding is a perfect way to describe a praying life. For example, many Christians who are thinking of buying a vacation home might even pray, asking God practical questions, such as “Can we afford it?” “Will it be too much work?” “Should we make an offer on this house?” There are good questions. But we seldom ask God heart questions such as “Will a second home elevate us above people?” “Will it isolate us?” In the first set of questions, God is your financial adviser. In the second set, he has become your Lord. You are abiding. You are feeding your soul with food that lasts.

We can do the same thing with a promotion. It feels selfish to pray for one, so instead we will work for one! We end up separating a big part of our lives from God because we are trying to feel good about ourselves. As we have seen, we create two selves—a spiritual self and material self.

We also shy away from prayers like these because they invite God to rule our lives. They make us vulnerable. Like the crowds at Capernaum, we want breakfast, not soul food. Left to ourselves, we want God to be a genie, not a person. Scholars have pointed out that Jesus’ references to the kingdom are a subtle way of introducing himself as a king. When we pray the first petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come,” we are saying “King Jesus, rule my life. The heart is one of God’s biggest mission fields.

Oddly enough, we can also use prayer to keep God distant. We do that by only talking to God and not to mature believers. I can demonstrate that easily. Which is easier, confessing impure thoughts to a mature friend or to God? The friend is tougher. That feels real. We need to ask the body of Christ, Jesus’ physical presence on earth, the same questions we ask God. If you isolate praying from the rule of Jesus by not involving other Christians, you’ll end up doing your own will. Many Christians isolate their decision making the body of Christ, then further isolate themselves in their vacation homes. They say something like this: “Well my husband and I prayed about it, and the Lord seemed to confirm it. Possibly God did confirm it. It is also possible that you used prayer as a spiritual cover for “doing your own thing.” We can mask our desires even from ourselves.

Look at how Scripture and a listening heart are woven together in this hypothetical conversation with a mature friend.

Bob, my wife and I would love to get a vacation home. You know how pressured life has been for us, and it would be great to get away to a quiet place where we can unwind. We’ve found this beautiful place up on a lake that the whole family could enjoy. At the same time, we’re concerned with what it might do to our hearts. We want to be followers of Jesus, and he warns us against building bigger and better barns. Is this a bigger and better barn? Will it elevate us above people? Will it isolate us from people? Is it a wise use of our resources? Will we be limiting what we can give to others? At the same time, we think we could use our house to give vacations to people who can’t afford them. Tell me what you think.
Along with those questions, give your friend enough data to make an intelligent decision. Be open about how much it will cost, what your income is, and how it will impact your giving and savings.

One reason we don’t ask a mature friend these questions is Western individualism. Individualism goes back to the Judeo-Christian heritage all they way back to Psalm 23 and God’s tender care for me. When the Good Shepherd loves me, I have dignity and worth. I have value as an individual. But modern secularism has taken the Shepherd out of Psalm 23, leaving just me trying to create my own dignity and worth. It is my money; I earned it. I need a break. So it never occurs to me to include God or anyone else in my decision to buy a vacation home.

For more on discernment, see this post:

For more on submission to the Body of Christ, see this post:

For more on walking in the light in the Body of Christ, see this post:

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