📙 Prayer

Author: Philip Yancey

Full Title: Prayer

Highlights from January 11th, 2021.

Prayer raises my sight beyond the petty – or, as in Job’s case, dire – circumstances of daily life to afford a glimpse of that lofty perspective.
Every day my vision clouds over so that I perceive nothing but a world of matter. It requires a daily act of will to remember what Paul told the sophisticated crowd in Athens: ‘[God] is not far from each one of us. “For in him we live and move and have our being.”’ For this reason prayer may seem strange, even embarrassing.
If I started with the mind and will of God, viewing the rest of my life from that point of view, other details would fall into place – or at least fall into a different place.
I plead with God, as if hoping to change God’s Mind and overcome divine reluctance. Instead, I should start upstream where the flow begins.
Streams of mercy flow. I begin with God, who bears primary responsibility for what happens on earth, and ask what part I can play in God’s work on earth. ‘Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’
Mystery, awareness of another world, an emphasis on being rather than doing, even a few moments of quiet do not come naturally to me in this hectic, buzzing world. I must carve out time and allow God to nourish my inner life.
she discovered that prayer only seems like an act of language: ‘fundamentally it is a position, a placement of oneself.’ She went on to discover that, ‘Prayer as focus is not a way of limiting what can be seen; it is a habit of attention brought to bear on all that is.’
Be still. In that focus, all else comes into focus. In that rift in my routine, the universe falls into alignment.
In testimony given before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa, one black man told of crying out to God as the white officers attached electrodes to his body after beating him with truncheons. They laughed in his face: ‘We are God here,’ jeered one of the guards. The Commission hearings bared the delusion of that brash claim, for the guards, stripped of all power, now sat in a defendants’ box with heads bowed as their accusers paraded before them. They had been dethroned.
To let God be God, of course, means climbing down from my own executive chair of control. I must ‘uncreate’ the world I have so carefully fashioned to further my ends and advance my cause.
In prayer I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. I climb above the timber line and look down at the speck that is myself. I gaze at the stars and recall what role I or any of us play in a universe beyond comprehension. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.
The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’ C.S. Lewis
Sometimes I wonder if the words I use are the least important part of prayer. Who am I? And who is God? If I can answer those two questions, the words I pray recede. Prayer invites me to lower defences and present the self that no other person fully knows to a God who already knows.
I begin with confession not in order to feel miserable, rather to call to mind a reality I often ignore. When I acknowledge where I stand before a perfect God, it restores the true state of the universe.
Norwegian theologian Ole Hallesby settled on the single word ‘helplessness’ as the best summary of the heart attitude that God accepts as prayer.

Highlights from January 11th, 2021.

Why value Humility in our approach to God? Because it accurately reflects the truth. Most of what I am – my nationality and mother tongue, my race, my looks and body shape, my intelligence, the century in which I was born, the fact that I am still alive and relatively healthy – I had little or no control over.
Prayer makes room for the unspeakable, those secret compartments of shame and regret that we seal away from the outside world.
In truth, what I think and feel as I pray, rather than the words I speak, may be the real prayer, for God ‘hears’ that too. My every thought occurs in God’s presence.
‘We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us,’ wrote C.S. Lewis. To put it another way, we must trust God with what God already knows.

Highlights from January 13th, 2021.

God alone knows the selfish motives behind my every act, the vipers’ tangle of lust and ambition, the unhealed wounds that paradoxically drive me to appear whole. Prayer invites me to bring my whole life into God’s presence for cleansing and restoration. Self-exposure is never easy, but when I do it I learn that underneath the layers of grime lies a damaged work of art that God longs to repair.
Every relationship spawns a kind of dance between the self and the other. How much more so with a holy, ineffable God who lives in a realm of spirit.
The Bible sometimes emphasises the distance between humans and God (subjects of a king, defendants before a judge, servants of a master) and sometimes emphasises the closeness (bride of a bridegroom, sheep of a shepherd, God’s offspring). Without question, though, Jesus himself taught us to count on the closeness. In his own prayers he used the word Abba, an informal word of address that Jews before him had not used in prayer. A new way of praying was born, says the German scholar Joachim Jeremias: ‘Jesus talks to his Father as naturally, as intimately and with the same sense of security as a child talks to his father.’
God operates by different rules of time and space. And God’s infinite greatness, which we would expect to diminish us, actually makes possible the very closeness that we desire.
These things feed my faith: epiphanies of beauty in nature, sunbursts of grace and forgiveness, the portrait of God I get in Jesus, stirring encounters with people who truly live out their faith.
When I wonder why God doesn’t simply ‘show up’, I recall that when God did, especially in Old Testament days, the appearance hardly enhanced communication: usually the person fell to the ground, flattened by blinding light.
I have learned to see prayer not as my way of establishing God’s presence, rather as my way of responding to God’s presence that is a fact whether or not I can detect it.
To quote Abraham Joshua Heschel, ‘Contact with Him is not our achievement. It is a gift, coming down to us from on high like a meteor, rather than rising up like a rocket. Before the words of prayer come to the lips, the mind must believe in God’s willingness to draw near to us, and in our ability to clear the path for His approach. Such belief is the idea that leads us toward prayer.’
I remembered reading the account of a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery. ‘I hope your stay is a blessed one,’ said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell. ‘If you need anything, let us know and we’ll teach you how to live without it.’
Prayer that focuses on God, meditative prayer, can serve as a kind of self-forgetfulness. Some have called it a ‘useless’ act because we do it not for the sake of getting something out of it but spontaneously, as uselessly as a child at play.

Highlights from January 30th, 2021.

Prayer is a subversive act performed in a world that constantly calls faith into question. I may have a sense of estrangement in the very act of prayer, yet by faith I continue to pray and to look for other signs of God’s presence.
My feelings of God’s presence – or God’s absence – are not the presence or the absence. Whenever I fixate on techniques, or sink into guilt over my inadequate prayers, or turn away in disappointment when a prayer goes unanswered, I remind myself that prayer means keeping company with God who is already present.
God is already present in my life and all around me; prayer offers the chance to attend and respond to that presence.
Prayer that focuses on God, meditative prayer, can serve as a kind of self-forgetfulness. Some have called it a ‘useless’ act because we do it not for the sake of getting something out of it but spontaneously, as uselessly as a child at play. After an extended time with God my urgent requests, which had seemed so significant, took on a new light. I began to ask them for God’s sake, not my own. Though my needs may drive me to prayer, there I come face to face with my greatest need: an encounter with God’s own self.
Prayer that is based on relationship and not transaction may be the most freedom-enhancing way of connecting to a God whose vantage point we can never achieve and can hardly imagine.
Silently gazing into a friend’s eyes may seem purer, and certainly more romantic, than mere talk. But conversation, not silence, builds relationships. Though I will never minimize the effect of beautiful eyes, I expect to talk to the people I care about – and to hear them talk back. We do not build relationships on a sentence or two spoken every few years. Conversation between real friends is a constant stream.

Highlights from February 3rd, 2021.

An Australian wrote to me about his concern for those who feel Autistic in Prayer: not only the depressed and those with borderline personality disorders, but also ordinary, timid people in the pews who feel undeserving of God’s attention.

Highlights from February 3rd, 2021.

Indeed, the New Testament presents prayer as a weapon in a prolonged struggle. Jesus’ parables on prayer show a widow pestering a judge and a man pounding on his neighbour’s door. After painting a picture of the Christian as a soldier fitted out with the ‘full armour of God’, Paul gives four direct commands to pray. Elsewhere, Paul urges his protégé Timothy to endure hardship like a soldier, to toil like a farmer, to compete like an athlete.

Highlights from February 4th, 2021.

The morning offers a chance to plot out the day in advance, to bring before God every scheduled appointment and phone call as well as to ask God to keep me mindful of any sacred interruptions. None of us knows what any day will bring, of course, and I find it helps to request in advance a sensitivity to whatever might transpire.
I need to tune in to God’s work behind the scenes. As my pastor in Chicago used to pray, ‘God, show me what you are doing today, and how I can be a part of it.’ Amazingly, when I preview my day in prayer, priorities will tend to re-arrange themselves during the course of the day.
Beyond these principles, I learned from Psalms to converse with God as I would converse with my employer, my friend, my wife – in short, to treat God as a Person in every sense of the word. I had seen prayer as a kind of duty, not as a safe outlet for whatever I was thinking or feeling. Psalms freed me to go deeper.
C.S. Lewis preferred fixed prayers for his private devotions because they kept the focus on permanent things rather than ‘contemporary problems
One hindrance in particular tied Luther’s tongue: feeling unworthy. Like a person abused in childhood, he could not rid himself of a sense of shame. As a young monk, some days he would spend hours trying to identify every stray thought and sin.
His great breakthrough came when he realised that Jesus had revealed God’s character by offering grace and forgiveness to the foulest of sinners, the least worthy. From then on, whenever feelings of unworthiness plagued him, Luther would view them as the work of the devil and roar back in opposition.
When I am with my wife or a close friend, naturally I talk about whatever is on my mind, not follow a formal agenda. Likewise, apparent distractions may become the substance of my encounter with God. Prayer expresses a relationship between two Persons, one of whom happens to be God.

Highlights from February 28th, 2021.

Here, I believe, is the key to understanding what is most personal in prayer. We do not pray to tell God what he does not know, nor to remind him of things he has forgotten. He already cares for the things we pray about … He has simply been waiting for us to care about them with him. When we pray, we stand by God and look with him toward those people and problems. When we lift our eyes from them toward him, we do so with loving praise, just as we look toward our oldest and dearest friends and tell them how we care for them, though they already know it … We speak to him as we speak to our most intimate friends – so that we can commune together in Love.

Note: Tim Stafford

Prayer, according to one ancient definition, is ‘keeping company with God’. I like that notion. It encompasses the epiphanies that happen during my day: turning a corner on a ski trail and seeing a grey fox skitter away, watching the pink alpenglow on the mountains as the sun sets, meeting an old friend at the grocery store. By incorporating those experiences into my prayers, I prolong and savour them so that they do not fall too quickly into my memory bank, or out of it.
Jesus set the pattern for prayer as a continuous mode of friendship. The Old Testament contains many beautiful and magnificent prayers, usually led by a king or a prophet, and the Jews tended to view prayers as formal recitations led by someone else. Even the psalms contain notations for use in group worship rather than private meditation. Some scholars suggest that Jesus virtually invented private prayer. No one in the Old Testament directly addressed God as ‘Father’, whereas Jesus did so 170 times.
As I persist at prayer, I recognise an answering partner who takes up the other side of the dialogue, a kind of internal alter ego representing God’s point of view. When I want revenge, this partner reminds me of forgiveness; when obsessed with my own selfish needs, I am struck with the needs of others. Suddenly I realise I am not talking to myself in this inner dialogue. The Spirit of God is praying within me, communicating the will of the Father.

Highlights from March 3rd, 2021.

said: ‘All my

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