Sunday, July 22, 2018

How to Pray Unceasingly

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IHM, in Monroe
Pray continually.

1 Thessalonians 5:17

The secret to "praying continually" is connectedness with Jesus. Out of the soil of intimate relationship "prayer without ceasing" grows.

This summer Linda and I have had some great vacation time. After our HSRM conference we spent five days in Holland, Michigan. And, we've taken a couple of getaways at Maumee Bay State Park in Ohio. When we do this we are together all the time. We share experiences, talk about many things, and sometimes just sit together looking at the lake. We eat together, and talk as we eat. 

When you are with a person a lot, you think about them a lot.

Intimate connection is the key to ongoingness. The unceasing, continual praying Paul experienced was not some arduous, task-oriented duty. Unceasing praying does not come by trying harder. It flows out of connectedness. The more there is intimate abiding in Christ, the more one's praying becomes unceasing.

Frank Laubach put it this way.

“The task to which You have called me is as hard to accomplish as scaling Mount Everest, but You can accomplish it if I can keep my will attuned to Your will…. That is my task, to hold my will to the current of power, and let You sweep through endlessly.” (Quoted in Richard Foster, Prayer - 10th Anniversary Edition: Finding the Heart's True Home, pp. 125-126)

Connect often to Jesus. Ongoing conversation with God will follow.

Unceasing praying is the fruit of intimate relationship. As relationship deepens, conversation deepens. Richard Foster describes this as a growth process. (See Foster, Prayer, pp. 125-126.)  

Stage 1 - Outward discipline.

I choose to connect with Christ, in the act of praying.

For me this happened in 1977. I made a choice to pray a half hour a day. I did not do this to earn God's love. I chose this because of God's love for me

1. Those who love God, talk with God.

2. I love God.

3. Therefore, I talk with God.

Foster writes: "This is how we gain proficiency at anything. The accomplished pianist, who today spryly runs her hands up and down the keyboard, once had to agonize over the simplest scales. The same is true for us." Foster, Prayer, p. 126. See also Dallas Willard's beautiful The Spirit of the Disciplines.)

Choose this day whom you will talk with. As for me and my house, we will talk with God.

Stage 2 - The mind descends into the heart.

I woke this morning with a song in my heart. These words are looping in my soul: When we arrive on eternity's shore, and death is just a memory and tears are no more... This song now flows like an unceasing river through my soul, over and over and over.

Foster says prayer becomes "like a tune that we suddenly realize we have been humming all day long. Inward prayer bubbles forth at the oddest moments: in the midst of traffic, in the shower, in a crowded shopping mall. We begin to dream our prayer." (Ib.) 

We begin to think our prayers, in our hearts. "Our decisions become increasingly bathed in a loving rationality." This is hard to describe. It comes only to pray-ers. Foster writes:

"I do not quite have the words to explain it to you. We become, for example, more sensitive to the hurts and sufferings of others. We walk into a room and quickly know who is sad or lonely or dealing with a deep, inexpressible sorrow. In such a case we are able to slip over beside them and sit in silence, bringing comfort and understanding and healing, knowing that “deep calls to deep” (Ps. 42:7)." (Ib., 127)

For me, this comes as I practice praying. 

Stage 3 - Prayer permeates the whole personality.

Foster writes: "It becomes like our breath or our blood, which moves throughout the entire body. Prayer develops a deep rhythm inside us." (Ib., 127)

This is intimacy with Jesus, ongoingly. This is love, experientially. Praying-as-relationship becomes the air I breathe.

This is John 14-15-16 stuff, realized. The Father makes his home in us. We are one with God, unitively. (This is a relational union, not a metaphysical union of being.)

Praying becomes a life of cultivated closeness. Unceasingly.

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

I am currently writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, Linda and I will co-write our book on Relationships.