Celebration of Discipline: Prayer

To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. IF we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ. (Foster, 33)

I really like that description, because it highlights the importance of the relational nature of prayer, and that prayer is a primary means of transformation. And really, if we don’t spend time with God, it probably should come as no surprise that we aren’t as like Him as we’d like to be.

Foster mentions both Martin Luther and John Wesley. I’ve always marveled at Luther saying that he “had too much business” to not spend three hours a day in prayer. How different we tend to see things in our busy culture.

For some Christian pioneers, prayer was the chief work of their lives. That too, seems out of reach, and counter-cultural. We pray, but do we really, really believe prayer makes that much of a difference? How often do we pray because it’s expected? And when we ask for things, how much faith do we have that it will make a difference? I, for one, have struggled with the last question more often than I care to admit.

That’s partly why I like the idea of communing with God. But if I truly trust Him, I can’t get away from petitioning and intercession, now can I? I don’t want my prayers to be functional though, as if prayer is a technique where I have to correctly insert a coin into the great slot machine in the sky.

In Foster’s view, “Real prayer is something we learn” (Foster, 36) over time, by doing it. As we pray, we get more tuned into God, and thereby find our prayers more often answered. But first, we must listen. Certainly verses like John 15:7 convey that God answers prayer: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.” I’ve always liked John 15, though the challenge of that chapter is not to abide in order to get close to God as a task to get what we want, but to get to know God himself.

I grew up Pentecostal, so we prayed a lot, and definitely believed God answered prayers and moved among us. That might have carried more weight if the character of a number of people I knew lived up to their supposed prayer lives. Christians fail though, and ultimately, either what the Bible says about prayer is true or it’s not, and fortunately, there are always those Christians whose lives remind me why I believe.

Foster talks about prayer by using the imagination. Some detractors liken his description to astral projection or other Eastern religion practices. I’ll let others disect his methodology and just focus on my view of it. “Children also teach us the value of the imagination” (Foster, 41). As adults, we sometimes get too serious, too concrete. That’s not to say there isn’t a time to be serious, but there’s also a time to play and use our imaginations. I’ve used my imagination in prayer before, and it’s rather cool to form a picture of the person I’m praying for. Hey, if Peter, and Paul and John can see all the visions they saw (including the entire book of Revelation), and we are looking to the Bible for examples of how to pray, I’d say imagination has a place in prayer.

Foster also wrote a comprehensive book on prayer called Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Anyone know any other good books on prayer?