The State of Things: Telling the Truth about Prayer
I still remember my first prayer. I was 5 years old and had lost a beloved stuffed dinosaur. I was discouraged and let out a desperate prayer: “God, help me find my dinosaur!” I reached under my bed, all the way down to the carpeted floor, and suddenly felt within my grasp that which I had longed for. It was a beautiful moment of childlike faith meeting the kindness of a loving God. Now that I have my own 5-year-old, I’m witnessing a lot of those moments all over again in his own journey of faith.
Actually, I recently had another moment like this in my own life: I prayed for something in a spirit of anxiety and desperation. This time, I did not have the beauty and holiness of my 5-year-old-childlike faith. As I have lived my life in the present age, my spirit has become cynical and hardened to the reality of prayer to my Creator. The patterns and practices in which we are emerged in our time and place do not teach us to commune with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit or have faith in God's control and guidance over his people; they instead teach us to believe in our own selves and to shun the idea of a loving, omnipotent God. Still, God answered that recent prayer in a way that was so evident to me that I was frankly a little shocked and even resistant. The snide commentary of the cynic came into my mind: “It would have happened anyway, don’t be silly; don’t be gullible.” How sad that prayer, for many of us, feels like an uncomfortable liability and outdated vestige passed down to us from our gullible foremothers and fathers of the faith.
A few years ago, I remember reading a Charles Spurgeon quote that scared and depressed me: "A prayerless soul is a Christless soul."
So often, those words have come back to haunt me in the face of my prayerlessness in life. "Do I really know God if I am not good at praying?" Prayer seemed to be an assumption, a given in the life of following Jesus that my heart had not seemed to really latch on to. I prayed, but just not consistently or even daily. The churches that I attended featured a brief prayer in the service, mentions of prayer in the sermons, and sometimes they gathered for prayer, but there wasn't much guidance as to what a life of prayer--meaning the continual minutes and hours of prayer in our actual days-- is supposed to look like.
When you combine the doubt, faithlessness, and confusion with the technology-driven, stimulation-addicted, performance-driven, restless age that you and I live in, the life of prayer is often anemic, aimless, inconsistent, and discouraging. I have felt all of this, and all of it as a pastor! Wasn't I supposed to know better and be better at praying than everyone else? As I started to open up about it, I found that my questions and confusions weren’t dumb or unique but were actually quite common among modern Christians in my congregation. Most of the Christians that I meet with on a regular basis are discouraged or ashamed of their prayer lives: their prayerlessness or lack of consistency or lack of followthrough to pray as they have promised.
It is important to tell the truth about the state of things because God meets us in our confession and repentance. Indeed, a life struggling with prayerlessness is not a "Christless soul," but a heart that, under the influence of God's Spirit, is yearning for a deeper communion with the Father and the Son. That same Spirit "helps us in our weakness," says the scriptures. "For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God," (Romans 8:25–27 ESV). Thanks be to God!
The Daily Prayer Project begins with the recognition of the difficulty of living a life of prayer today and seeks a better model of prayer together as the Body of Christ.
The Daily Prayer Project
Far too often, our models for prayer are catered towards the discipline of the isolated individual. This person organizes her life with such precision that she is always on top of her “quiet times” and Bible reading plan. We see texts that portray Jesus as one who withdrew by himself to pray and abide with the Father (Luke 5:16) and we make those vignettes our template for the ideal life of prayer. This model works for some (the ones who are more disciplined in nature) but it does not work for many of us. We often fail to see that like many things in the Christian faith, individual efforts or spirituality are never to be isolated and severed from the people of God. Rather, they are meant to be fueled, encouraged, animated, challenged, and sustained by the Spirit at work in the Church. Jesus and his disciples, the early christians, and most Christians in the history of the Church have all gathered at set times for communal prayer (Acts 3:1).
In fact, common worship and prayer has always been a part of the life of the people of God from the Old Testament to the New. In fact, we still experience it. The most basic form of this for Christians is on Sunday morning, when the saints gather together to sing common songs, pray common prayers, eat the same Lord’s Supper, hear the same scripture preached, and celebrate the same holy seasons and days. However, for almost all streams of Christendom, other times of weekly and daily worship and prayer have been seen as vital and necessary for living a faithful life of discipleship.
The Daily Prayer Project is an entrance into that experience of common prayer. It’s an attempt to nudge us—and honestly, nudge myself—into a model of prayer that places much more weight on the communal life of prayer, which fuels and forms our individual lives of prayer. It’s not a novel idea, but an old one being brought back in, I hope, a fresh way. In the daily morning and evening emails, one will find a liturgy for morning and evening prayer. It is a holy, unifying, and empowering experience to know that you and your community are praying together in a common way throughout the Christian year.
The Daily Prayer Project is not the silver bullet to make the spiritual life work or make someone a successful Christian. It is a humble effort to resist the spirit of the age together and commune with the Father, Son, and Spirit towards the ultimate goal of loving him with all of who we are and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Grace and peace,
So, next, the method: How do you use this thing?