Monday, 13 October 2008

A Call to Spiritual Reformation ch1

As I mentioned, I have decided to post weekly comments on the book by Don Carson, "A Call to Spiritual Reformation", which I am reading slowly but steadily at the moment. You might like to join me in reading it, or simply learn from my comments.
Chapter One: Lessons from the School of Prayer

Before tackling the direct lessons from Scripture which Carson has learnt through his life, he presents the best lessons on prayer he has learnt from mature Christians.

1. "Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray."
Carson's argues that we often forget to pray, or don't get around to prayer, simply because we have not set aside time specifically to pray. He suggests we should plan to pray often, even if only briefly. In response to this lesson, I have been setting my alarm clock that bit earlier so that not only do I have time for Bible study, I also have time for prayer. For the past few weeks I have been rolling out of bed straight onto my knees by the side of the bed. That way, I don't fall back to sleep while I lie to myself that I'm going to talk to God lying down in bed... but I don't have to turn on lights or make noise and possibly wake up little kiddilets, either. At the moment I am getting up at 6am which gives me an hour to pray and do my Bible Study before I need to be getting the kids dressed for breakfast. I do need to start winding my alarm back even earlier, though, because Daylight Savings Time will be starting on the 26th and I need to be prepared for the time to jump forward an hour. I know this whole getting up early to pray thing is a lot easier in the summer than winter. Any suggestions for planning a good prayer time for the winter?

2. "Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift."
Carson suggests the purely pragmatic means of saying your prayers aloud (or at least moving your lips to the words you pray) and journalling (writing your prayers down). He also suggests praying through biblical passages, particularly prayers, but really any Bible passage you are reading can also provide a stimulus for prayer. Reflective prayer which is based upon a reading is a great help, in my experience, to deepening one's relationship with God. God speaks to us today through His word, and it is only appropriate that we should respond to His words with our own. However, I haven't prayed consistently through selected Scripture passages in some time (except Psalms 51 and 139 which I read some Saturday evenings, preparing my heart for Sunday) and this is something which I am hoping this book will help me with. (See this article from Tim Chester on our (physical) posture when praying.)

3. "At various times of your life, develop, if possible, a prayer-partner relationship."
Carson is very clear that this person should be of the same sex as yourself unless it is your spouse (if you're unmarried, the situation is different, but even then I would be cautious choosing someone of the opposite sex unless they're your parent). Carson suggests the benefits of this partnership can be twofold: you learn from the prayers of your prayer partner and they hold you accountable for praying. I would like to pray more with my husband, and I know committing to a particular day/time would help us in this. I've talked about it a little bit with Jeff, but so far we haven't found a suitable time. One family discipline at a time, I guess: at the moment we're focusing really hard on family Bible study in our Circle Time.

4. "Choose models - but choose them well."
Carson explains we learn how to pray when we hear other people praying. I learnt to pray when I was a part of a prayer group for a BSF class in Darwin, where I used to live. The discipline of praying for an extended period with other women for a specific situation taught me much which I could then apply to all of my prayer. One of the most precious things I have experienced as a mother is listening in to my children's evening prayers. As parents model prayer to their children, so they will learn. My mother taught me the Lord's Prayer when I was only just old enough to read the words, and I learnt Table Grace from many meals in my parents' home over the years. However, the prayers of parents with their children should not end with the formal, repeated prayers of liturgy and special occasions - although these are a great place to start. I have taught our eldest three children the Lord's Prayer so they can pray with our congregation on Sundays, but Jeff and I also pray with them in the evenings in a less formal manner. I can see that I could be doing this more consistently and with greater forethought, however.

5. "Develop a system for your prayer lists."
Carson describes a few ways of keeping track of what you want to pray about. Whatever system you choose to use, it is useless unless you do actually use it. For example, we just got a list of items to pray for for Jeff's theological college. Unless I place that list where I can grab it up in the morning, I'll never pray for the things on that list. So it's right there under the alarm clock on my bedside table. I would like to start keeping a record of both the things I have prayed for and the things I need to pray for. At the moment, for example, I pray for my husband and children in the mornings, but I don't necessarily give a lot of thought to what I need to be praying about except at the actual time of my prayer. I can see that it would definitely improve my prayer life if I was more intentional in this area. I think I'll probably start with some kind of basic "To Pray" list, perhaps one for each kid and another for Jeff. And another for myself!

6. "Mingle praise, confession, and intercession; but when you intercede, try to tie as many requests as possible to Scripture."
While I was praying with the BSF ladies I learnt to begin with praise, then to follow with thanks and lastly to end with requests... confession was not part of this style of prayer because it was corporate. I do find it difficult to stick just to one genre of prayer at a time, though, and I think Carson's suggestion to include all at some time or times during the prayer is sensible and realistic. Confession naturally leads to thanks, and thanks often leads to praise; supplication often returns one to thanksgiving and vice versa; praise of God often turns one to either confession or supplication. This is the way a normal conversation twists and turns, and so it is sensible for us to expect our conversations with God to follow a similar pattern. After all, prayer is a conversation.

7. "If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers."
Carson warns that because people largely learn to pray from the examples of others, if those who pray publicly don't put some forethought into their prayers, people will learn to pray badly or not learn to pray at all. Of course, public prayers are primarily for the ears of God, but there is a secondary audience as well (otherwise they would be private, not public), and the audience should ideally be following along with the prayer as it is spoken aloud. The secondary audience of the congregation or Sunday School class or Bible Study small group needs to be taken into account when planning the choice of words and topic (although of course led by the Spirit in this as in all leadership activities).

One final quote, which I think sums up my experience of prayer for much of my life: "... many of us in our praying are like nasty little boys who ring front door bells and run away before anyone answers. Pray until you pray." This is sage advice: the more we pray, the more naturally we pray and the less forced, formal and formulaic our prayer becomes.

There was a lot in this chapter. You might want to take some time to think about how some of this can be applied to your own prayer life. Feel free to leave a comment to let me know if any of this has helped or confused you!
Next week: The Framework of Prayer - 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12

[Cover image from koorong.]


argsmommy said...

For me the praise/adoration part of prayer always leads naturally into confession -- whatever I praise Him reminds me of how that attribute is lacking in my own life.

Years ago I came up with kind of a neat method for getting started with the praise portion. I had an extra Bible that we never used and had never been written in. I would read a passage and highlight anything I could praise God for; mostly His attributes, names, etc. Then I would be able to quickly look at those highlighted portions during my prayer time and the result was a much richer prayer time. Sadly, I haven't used that method in several years, but your post reminded me of it. I will have to go look for that Bible again.

I did order the book, so I will try to catch up with you when it comes in. : )


Mrs. Edwards said...

I started journaling my prayers two years ago in order to keep my mind from wandering or dozing off! I read my Bible, jot down key verses and things I learned about God in the passages and praise Him for it. I write out my prayers in long hand and find that the words just pour out...

You're quite right that prayer must be scheduled. Of course, when we are intimate with God we pray all day long, as we go along, but in my experience we need a routine of reading Scripture coupled with focused prayer time, allowing us to interact with the Scriptures (as Kellie says).

We begin a habit of prayer and private Bible study out of obedience, but after it truly is a habit, we find that we rely on it. The busier I am, the more I need an hour in the morning having "coffee with the Lord."