Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Pray (Letters To My Family)

What kind of legacy do I want to leave my family? What character and vision and story do I want to instill in them? That is the inspiration behind this series of letters--an attempt to set down and share in words the values I hope to lead them in by example.

Alongside reading the Gospels (and the rest of Scripture) I would encourage my family to pray. These two activities go hand in hand. Each one on its own can feel a bit like a one sided conversation; together is sometimes as close as we can get to dialoging with God (though it may often seem a bit disjointed).

I will admit, this one is a bit harder for me to write. I'm not the best at praying, nor do I really understand how it works. Some days it feels like I've gotten into a rut, repeating the same words day after day almost mindlessly. Other days, I don't know what to pray or I just forget. I often wonder what prayer means for the God who knows everything. I suppose there are two or three things that I hold onto to anchor my belief in prayer.

Prayer is relational. If our central purpose, our reason for being is to be in relationship with God, it would seem that talking with Him is important. Not necessarily to any utilitarian end, but simply for the sake of conversing with God. Laying out our heart before Him, sharing our dreams, fears, worries, and desires (even our distractions--these are things that our on our mind that God wants us to share with Him). And listening as He shares His with us. In this sense, prayer must flow out of who we are. It must be honest and raw. God isn't looking for a show; He's looking for you. He wants to get to know you and for you to get to know Him. In this way, prayer is a way of drawing near to God.

I tend to think of this aspect mostly in the sense of spontaneous prayer, but there's a place for liturgical prayer as well. Sometimes I don't have words to express what's in me. Reading from the Psalms or the prayers composed by the saints throughout the ages, I have more than once come across words that better capture what I'm feeling than any I could come up with on my own. And so, I pray from the liturgy making the words my own, not out of obligation or rote, but because after reading them I find those are really the words I want to say.

Prayer changes me. It refocuses my attention back to God. It is in a sense bringing all of my brokenness into His light, which is the first step to being healed. In praying, I invite the Spirit into my life to transform me from the inside out. In fact, I would say pray, indeed pray often, the simple prayer "Fill me with your Spirit" (if your desire is truly to be made His). It is in simple, honest prayer that we wrestle with God. We may be angry, frustrated, confused, or whatever--that's enough for Him to work with. It's when we walk away that we begin to drift.

When I pray from the liturgy, I am reminded of the priorities of the Kingdom, the promises of God, and the calling on my life. These prayers, often inspired by Scripture, were written as signposts in our daily lives. They help to set our rhythm and anchor in the midst of a world of chaos and distraction.

How to pray? Again, I don't have all the answers, but I can share a few things that have helped me. I think having set times for prayer is important. A space in time that is guarded from the distractions of life (of course, this does not preclude praying whenever and wherever--indeed, it should help develop a habit that spills over into the rest of life). What exactly you do in those times might vary from day to day. Some times I read from Scripture (I've enjoyed doing this with a journaling Bible). Other times I might bring out the Book of Common Prayer (so many meaningful prayers in that book for all manner of occasions; and when I'm not sure what to pray for, the weekly collects are always a good place to start). When something is on my mind, I'l go off script and pray about that in particular. And when I feel a need to dive deeper in introspection, I've found the Examen a great tool for inviting God into that space. The Lord's Prayer often serves as a way of concluding and is a great model from which to learn how to pray.

Finally, remember that prayer is a conversation, not a performance. Be honest and vulnerable with your heavenly Father. Allow Him into the deepest (and darkest) parts of your heart. Share with Him your joys and your sufferings. Listen to His words of instruction and promise, comfort and grace. Let Him fill your heart; invite Him to make His home in you. Ask for His Spirit to transform you, conform you into His image--the image of the Messiah who bore our skin that He might intimately know us and our sufferings. Pray that you might intimately know Him and His heart.

Part of the Letters To My Family series

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