(THE BEGINNINGS OF PRAYER)
Much has been written on this subject of personal prayer and the purpose of this article is not to repeat any of the familiar thoughts that have been already expressed in the past, but to perhaps share something different and yet not so new.
It has been well stated that prayer is communication with God that travels in a two-way cycle. When we pray, we speak to God, bringing to Him all our difficulties, trials faced, problems, etc, and when we read / feed upon His Word, He is able to communicate back with us and direct us according to our need. This basic form of praying and reading the Word completes the cycle of communication between man and God through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
Two Bases of Prayer: (1) Though prayer in general can be breathed by any person at any time, a sustained personal prayer habit is only possible through a personal relationship with God, which comes through knowing Christ. Jesus said: “I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father (in prayer or otherwise), except he comes through me” (Jn 14:6). “Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ.” (ccc # 2564). (2) The second basis for such communication (of prayer & the Word) is Love: God relates to man in what is essentially a love-based relationship, for God is love – (1 Jn 4:8). Without this vital element of love, any communication would die a natural death.
It is this second basis of love that we need to look at more closely as it reflects how this communication is supposed to work. This could be best illustrated through the example of a man and woman in love with each other. Consider the following:
Spending Time With Each Other: When two people are in love, they do not need to be told to spend time in each other’s company. They religiously & zealously make and guard the time of meeting, come what may. If you have ever been in love, you know that meeting with your loved one is the high-point of the day and is looked forward to eagerly. It makes the rest of the mundane day tolerable. When the moment arrives, you delight in the company of the one you love. Time, it seems ceases to exist. Never does a young man or woman ever look at his watch and say “enough” it’s time to go home. Love yearns to be in the presence of the lover and never wants those precious moments to end (See the Song of Solomon Ch.1). If it was not for wise parents who curbed the young ones with strict rules and timings for getting home, there would be much mishap during such times.
Prayer is no different: It is based on a similar love relationship. My desire is to keep my morning date with the Lord, because I am deeply in love with Him and I would not want to miss that for anything else in the world. A man or woman who loves the Lord with all their heart, does not struggle to keep that time, but instead guards it jealously from all other intrusions. It is too precious to be lost to some other earthly activity, like a morning exercise or the newspaper, or even one’s breakfast. When we approach it out of a sense of duty and a law to be kept, we fail right at the start. Imagine, if a woman had to meet her “lover” because the court had ordered her to, or because society had laid it upon her as a duty, and all the while deep down she had no love nor desire for this person – what a drudgery. She would rather find ways to escape the time, make excuses not to meet, than try to satisfy the law, because her heart would not be in it. Many of us, have come to this point because we have somehow wrongly perceived that “personal prayer” is a duty to be observed.
Spontaneous Conversation: When two people are in love, there is an exuberance in their conversation. It sometimes overflows even to the point of both talking at the same time, because they can’t help but share all that’s in their hearts. Nothing is held back, love seems to loosen the tongue. It is the love welling up in their hearts that make all conversations easy and effortless, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Mt 12:34).
Love does not need promptings or rehearsals as to what to speak. Imagine when two young lovers are on a date and suddenly the man runs short on words and digging into his pocket takes out a paper on which he has noted down some points. And so he starts – point no. 1 – Which college did you go to – waits for an answer, then checks his paper for point no. 2 – how many brothers and sisters do you have – waits for an answer, then again frantically looks for point no. 3 – what did you have for lunch today, and so on…. Which girl would sit there another minute? There is nothing like formalism and ritualism to kill the life in a conversation or put out the spark in a relationship.
Prayer is no different: Love for Jesus is the deep underlying factor that drives prayer. As stated earlier, prayer is not a formal conversation; it needs to be spontaneous and lively. If two people are in love, they would not need to peep into papers or books in order to converse with one another. Yet we pray most often out of a book, reciting what someone else has written or standardized, someone else’s well meaning prayer formula perhaps, maybe appealing, but it does not express your heart. Beloved, what God wants, is for you to open out your heart and share with him spontaneously all that’s going on inside. Sure, tell Him how much you love Him, trust Him, and want Him, but also disclose the darkness and fears, the sins that trip, & the weaknesses that cause failure. Love knows no bounds nor does it keep any bounds because it trusts the other party to keep the confidence shared, and so it pours it all out confidently knowing that the Master hears and knows and will handle it all. Childlike trust and faith are the springs of efficacious prayer.
The Silence of Intimacy: When the love between two people have grown and developed to a point and they have exhausted their talk, words are perhaps no longer needed. A closeness has developed and bonds of intimacy have grown between them. As they sit and watch the sunset, holding hands and gazing over the horizon, there might not be any talk. In fact words would only get in the way. Intimate love which comes with growth and much time spent together, needs no expression in the form of words. Just a touch, a glance, a knowing smile or even a frown, conveys the message as completely as a thousand words. All about each of them is out in the open and known, nothing is hidden, all is transparent.
Prayer is no different: These same depths of love are experienced between the soul and his lover – The Lord Jesus Christ! There is a time to speak and there is a time to be silent. The bonding over years of faithful prayer gives rise to the silence of intimate worship, where deep calls to deep, no noisy words any more, no heaping of empty phrases, but heartfelt worship from the heart in spirit and truth, exulting and leaping within, in the knowledge that my Beloved is mine and I am His and that no matter what He permits me to go through, nothing can come between me and that unsurpassable love of Christ (Rom 8:39).
But the cycle of communication must be complete for prayer to be two-way and meaningful. There must be a chance now for the other side to speak, whether it be consolingly, lovingly, admonishingly, or directionally.
Love Knows No Distance: Very often two lovers are separated when the man has to take up a job out at sea, or elsewhere overseas. Per force, they are separated and gone are the treasured moments in each other’s company. But does the love die down or fade out? It could, if they neglected it and allowed time and distance to wear it thin. But true love that has run deep would never permit the thought even. Though distance now separates, though hands cannot be held, though blushing smiles cannot be physically seen, a new medium is found to keep the wheels of love turning. Love Letters! Expressions of the same fervent and arduous love that would have otherwise been spoken, are instead now written and sent by air mail, speed post, courier, or better still email or even facebook chat. In yesteryears one waited eagerly for the postman who brought the snail mail containing news of the beloved. Today, with the highly advanced electronic media, the communication is online and in real-time, thus successfully bridging the gap of time and distance most effectively. The letters / mails are scanned for news from the beloved. All details are important, the food, the work, the friends, the climate, which would bore another, are nevertheless important, for whatever affects the one overseas affects the lover back home. If he is going through a rough time, she feels it, if he rejoices in good tidings, she rejoices with him, for they are bonded. Words, precious words from a love letter are able to communicate the love that flows from within, and more importantly, it stimulates and keeps that love flowing even when visibility is absent.
The Word of God is no different: Have we forgotten that the Bible is God’s complete and personal love letter to each of us, His beloved children? The one who loves the Lord, eagerly pours over its pages and devours its messages and instructions for they are Spirit and Life to him who receives them by faith. Every word is God breathed (2 Tim 3:16) and written under the sovereign guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit. In fact, since we cannot physically see our Lover-Lord, the words He has written about us, and to us, become of paramount importance. Love for Him instils a deep filial heart-hunger to feed upon its life-giving pages in order to find out all about HIM. Right from the beginning of the O.T. to the end of the N.T. the scriptures point to HIM, The Beloved One, through whom and for whom all things were created. Sometimes the words we read speak admonishingly, or convictingly, or even chastisingly, but always tempered with His infinite love and compassion, for this is the heart of the Lover. All details are important to the lover here on earth and so, to the hungry heart He reveals all, including Himself (Mt 5:6).
So Far, So Good: When the two love-birds finally get married, they are ecstatic and set off on their honeymoon. The culmination point of their love-relationship has arrived. While they are on honeymoon all is honey and all is moon, all is sunshine and all is laughter. But when they get back home, and after the honeymoon dust has settled, then the real marriage begins.
Prayer is no different: To a great extent, in the early stages the Lord cultivates our relationship with Him in quite the same way, building it up to great heights, so much so the soul enjoys a honeymoon experience with Him daily, basking in the sunshine, like a kernel of golden wheat high up on the stalk, enjoying the myriad of conventions and conferences and Bible classes and prayer meetings. All is revival and song and dance and praise and worship. Daily prayer and the Word are fixed and fill the soul with spiritual delights.
Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, something begins to go wrong, quite unnoticeable at first, the euphoria from within begins to subside, the impetus for prayer and the Word begin to recede and it is not long before the perplexed Christian is thoroughly distraught about his waning spiritual condition. Yes, the honeymoon dust is beginning to settle, but what is happening Lord? Why is this happening Lord? Are you abandoning me after all Lord? Why am I backsliding Lord? These and a multitude of other burning questions plague the heart and mind of the young Christian at this point. What on earth is happening? We shall see in the next post – The Personal Prayer Walk – 2.