Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Prayer: Eloquence or Desperation

I don't remember exactly when I started writing out my prayers, but it's a practice I've grown quite attached to over the years. My journal, kept regularly since junior high, turned mostly into a prayer journal after I got married, and I've filled volumes upon volumes with pleas and petitions, whining and thanksgiving, laments and intercession. These are among my most prized possessions, so wonderful to be able to look through weeks or months or years later. One reason I so prefer writing out my prayers is that they are more thoughtful. Writing helps me slow down and think through what to pray. I like to ask specific and meaningful things, to pray God's Word back to Him.

Meanwhile, I struggle to "pray continually," breathing out prayers while I'm going about my day--perhaps in part because these prayers end up feeling shallow, repetitive, simplistic. But I'm reading Paul Miller's wonderful book A Praying Life, and the chapter "Crying 'Abba'--Continuously" gave me a whole different perspective. Suddenly I wondered: Could the preferences I've just described be, in their essence, pride?

Refusing to acknowledge my poverty of spirit, I believe I have much to bring to the table when it comes to prayer. I know how to pray. I'm not just going to utter halfhearted, "Lord, please bless-and-be-with" prayers. If I can't bring all my assets to prayer, can't have a big chunk of set-aside time to wax eloquent, then I won't come at all. Forget it.

Miller suggests:
"You don't need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit." (65)
Perhaps my problem is not so much lack of diligence as it is lack of humility and desperation. I *know*, in my head at least, that I am helpless and hopeless apart from Christ, needy and dependent. But I apparently haven't seen the truth that I am so needy that my need supercedes the importance of thoughtful prayer. What I need, what I lack, is far more significant than what I can do, what I bring. And so my poverty in spirit should trump my desire to pray thoughtfully, every time. God doesn't need my gospel-centered or Scripture-saturated prayers; I need God and His gospel and His Word.

Miller speaks of a revelation in the life of his family:
"We didn't need to get more organized. We didn't need more money. We needed mercy. That mindset creates a praying heart. A praying life is not simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can't even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus." (68)
O, for this kind of desperation and awareness of need--and O, for awareness of how the Savior has provided for my every need, if I will only call out to Him. He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.


Anonymous said...

oh how i can relate to this post. i also journal my prayers, but lack in the moment by moment desperation. thank you for the reminder. i love the insight about needing to be "poor in spirit" (or realizing the poverty that is there already). I am looking forward to reading the MIller book sometime soon.

Danielle said...

I'm with you here too. Love the quote:

"You don't need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit." (65)

It is almost exactly the same quote from Janet Pope that I heard recently on ROH on a different topic, Bible memorization. She also said (essentially): "You don't need more self-discipline to memorize scripture, you just have to hungry."