I love to pray.
When I was a kid, I started praying by compiling a prayer list – names of folks who I desired to see know Jesus (family and friends mostly, and ome celebrities). I prayed through the list each morning. Then when breakfast came around, I prayed for breakfast. When lunch came I prayed for lunch. When dinner came I prayed for dinner. When bedtime came I prayed for good dreams. Occasionally I would pray for other things too: nice weather the next day, health, and so forth.
The important point here is that prayer for me was MOSTLY, if not exclusively, about “the ask”. Thus, while I enjoyed praying and was a pretty consistent pray-er, there was a measure of anxiety built into the system. “Will God come through for me on all these things I’m asking him for…?” I would nervously wonder.
I think that most people’s prayer lives – if they exist at all – are probably stuck in neutral in exactly that place. Prayer is a semi-anxious exchange between people and a mysterious Deity who sometimes delivers what we ask for and sometimes does not. It is not hard to see why prayer does not hold much joy for most people.
My conviction is that the life of prayer is central to the work of spiritual formation. We are told in the New Testament that the Spirit’s work is to remake is in the image of the Son, Christ Jesus, so that our lives should be on an increasing trajectory of conformity to our Elder Brother. As my own prayer life has matured, it has not left behind the “ask” necessarily, but has come to incorporate practices and habits guided by the intuition of what the Eastern Orthodox would call theosis–that God’s desire for me is that I would die and rise again with Christ daily, with the result that my being is increasingly shot through with Divine Light, Life, Love, and Power.
Fortunately for us, we don’t need to journey so far as the Eastern Orthodox to learn how to pray in this way. Sitting and learning at Jesus’ feet will do just fine, for Jesus, the Son of the Father, teaches us to pray as Sons and Daughters of the Father.
In the next couple weeks I’ll be blogging through the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:9-13) in a series of posts called “Praying with Jesus”, the goal of which is open up pathways for understanding prayer that are deeper and richer than most of us are typically exposed to. I hope you’ll join me.