Category Archives: Prayer

Pamphlet

A Life of Prayer

(A four-minute read)

Some days I wake up with unanswered questions. These aren’t questions for research, but they are life-changing. Or at least perspective-changing. They’re questions God pops into my head. They’re questions I can’t immediately answer. They are meat to be chewed until the flavor comes through in the form of insight.

A Life of Prayer

Today’s question is about prayer. Do I have a prayer life, or do I lead a life of prayer?

No simple question, and it immediately leads to more questions:

– How would I tell the difference?
– Is the former adequate?
– Is the latter more desirable?
– If I have the former, and want the latter, how do I get it?
– What transforms me from a man who prays, to a praying man?

Inevitably, I have more than a mouthful; it’s now turned into a meal.

The apostle Paul told the Thessalonian church to ‘Pray without ceasing.’ 1 I get a vision of someone on his knees from morning to night, getting up only for food or relief.

There are stories told of great prayer warriors who spent so much time in prayer that there was a groove worn in the floor where they knelt, and a rubbed-raw forehead-sized spot on the wall. Or they would kneel in the snow long enough to come away with bloody knees.

Do I really need to do any of that to ‘pray without ceasing’?

I could. But not necessarily. There may be a more subtle answer.

Some Useful Advice

Theologian N. T. Wright describes the verses in and around ‘Pray without ceasing’ as a type of memory device for the young Christians in Thessalonica:

‘Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophecies.
Examine all things.
Firmly hold onto what is good.
Abstain from all appearances of evil.’ 2

Wright says in his ‘Paul for Everyone’ series that these are aids such as we’d use for learning grammar rules, like ‘I before E except after C’. The reason we have them, he says, is so we learn them until they become second nature to us, and we no longer have to think about them.3

Back to my original question then. Do I have a prayer life? Or do I live a life of prayer?

A Life of Prayer

The term ‘prayer life’ describes something I take on and attach to my inner world through some motivation. Like my ‘sleep life’ or my ‘eating life’ or my ‘work life’ or my ‘sex life.’ I’m involved in these things, but they are, in a way, detached from my personhood.

So a ‘prayer life’ seems like the rest of them. It’s like a garment, something I can don or doff at will, as it seems convenient, when it suits me.

A ‘life of prayer’ – now that sounds different. Internal. Personal. All-consuming. Imagine it in relation to the idea of a ‘life of sleeping’, or a ‘life of eating’, or a ‘life of work’ or a ‘life of sex’. All of them sound pretty radical, and would eventually lead to various levels of dissolution!

A ‘life of prayer’ though, would be in a class by itself. Because it’s not about being obsessed with prayer to the exclusion of all else. Rather it’s looking for God in all the places of my life, even the broken ones (especially the broken ones) so that the idea of prayer infiltrates all these other ‘lives’ that I live and builds them up.

In other words, I bring my prayer life (which is my conversation with God) into the parts of my life that seem on the surface to be ‘non-God’: work, eating, sleeping, marriage, exercise, tying my shoes, taking out the rubbish, complaining, fearing, lusting, apathy, judging, scorn.

Yeah, especially those last ones. Prayer is the only tool I have for making progress against them.

It’s not coincidental that ‘Pray without ceasing’ is sandwiched between ‘Rejoice always’ and ‘In everything give thanks.’ Being grateful and full of praise leads to a light heart. And that makes the conversation of prayer much easier.

Now, to work on ensuring it’s a two-way conversation.

1. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
2. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
3. Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians, Tom Wright, pp 130-131

Reverse Direction

A Special Bulletin

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for a special bulletin.
You have no need to fear.

Yes, there’s a pestilence loose in the world right now.
But you have no need to fear,
Unless you put your faith in your health.

The stock markets are crashing and the economy seems to be dissolving.
But you have no need to fear,
Unless you put your faith in money.

Someone you love dearly may be ill, or may even have died.
I am with you in your grief, but you have no need to fear,
Unless you put your faith in people.

You doubt the government knows what it is doing.
But you have no need to fear,
Unless you put your faith in government.

The media keeps harping on how bad it all is.
But you have no need to fear,
Unless you put your faith in the media.

The medical system may seem to be failing you.
But you have no need to fear,
Unless you put your faith in medicine.

Your church gives no answers about why this is happening.
But you have no need to fear,
Unless you put your faith in your church leaders.

It’s time to put your faith in the place where there’s never a doubt or failure.
Put your faith in God,
Jesus Christ says you have no need to fear.

“Don’t be afraid,” He said. “Take courage. I am here!” *
Yes, even in your self-isolation.

*Matthew 14:27 (NLT)

This piece originally posted 19 March, 2020. To read a true story about how faith in God overcame fear of death and disease, read The Lie Called Cancer, now available through Amazon.

[Photo: Frisky 007 via Wikimedia Commons]

Prison door

The Gods Fall Down

(A five minute read)

I have a tremendous opportunity, perhaps the greatest I’ve ever been offered. My false gods, my idols, are falling on their faces one by one.

Let me explain.

Because I was treated for cancer in 2019, I‘m considered a ‘Vulnerable Adult’ by the National Health Service, and thought likely to have an unpleasant ride should I contract the Covid-19 virus.

They deem my chance of death to be higher than yours.

So, I’m now locked in my home for 12 weeks. I have 81 days of confinement remaining, as of this writing.

No matter that I don’t believe I’m more vulnerable than you.

No matter that my understanding of Scripture proves that I have authority over this virus. (‘Curse you, Covid-19, in Jesus’ name! Back to the devil that spawned you!)

This is also notwithstanding my revelation last December that I’m healed of cancer.

As my daughter Brenna put it, ‘On paper, you should be (considered vulnerable). Age over 60, recently off chemo- and radiotherapies, history of excessive vice.* Medical experts don’t account for (divine) healing, for better or worse.’

Yeah, yeah. No matter that even during chemotherapy my wife got sick twice and I didn’t rate a sniffle. I didn’t even get to complain. Instead, I got a text:

NHS CORONAVIRUS SERVICE: We have identified that you’re someone at risk of severe illness if you catch Coronavirus. Please remain at home for a minimum of 12 weeks. Home is the safest place for you. Staying in helps you stay well and that will help the NHS too. You can open a window, but do not leave your home.

Clearly that last clause is to discourage me from pitching out head-first in suicidal despair from my upstairs flat.

(Insert sanctimonious Christian grumble here)

Oh well, God bless the NHS for their care and consideration, even if they haven’t caught up with my reality. I shall comply. It could likely save others.

On the up-side, I now rate preferential treatment for home delivery slots from my local supermarket and pharmacy.

But I digress badly. This isn’t about special delivery due to the Wuhan Flu, it’s about turning away from false gods.

My false gods are falling on their faces, confronted in this season of isolation by the one true God, maker of heaven and earth. As they recede, He grows nearer.

Here’s my opportunity then: Turn away from the false gods that I love so well, so that when I come out of House Arrest I’ll have no desire for them any more.

It’s like the account in 1 Samuel 5. The Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, which Israel had brought out onto the battlefield. But they made the mistake of setting the ark inside the temple of their god, Dagon.

‘And when the people of Ashdod arose early in the morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the earth before the ark of the Lord.’ (1Sam 5:3 NKJV) They stood Dagon back up again and the next morning they not only found it face-down in front of the ark, but with its head and both its hands cut off.

That’s what’s happening here in my room. I’m alone with the presence of the living God, Creator of heaven and earth. My idols are falling one by one at His feet. I’ll share a few examples with you:

  • My need to know, with too-frequent checking of news and opinion websites.
  • Questioning what the financial markets will do.
  • Pursuing what the medical experts think today (versus yesterday).
  • Having the freedom to go where I wish in the world.
  • Major League Baseball (the hardest of all – a personal passion since 1961).

One by one these are all crashing to the floor, heads and hands torn asunder, unimportant in the face of a God who heals, a God who loves. They cannot rise again of their own accord.

The critical question is whether I’ll be short-sighted enough to stand them up again when this is all over.

Or will I leave them earthbound, where they belong?

* My story of excessive vice is detailed in my memoir, Masterpiece (A Love Story) to be published in early April, 2020)

(Image by meesh, via Wikimedia Commons)