Make the most of the view

Try to imagine our sensory experience after we’ve been “raised in glory” . While the images might be exciting, they are probably small and bland compared to what is actually waiting for us. If the glory of the Eternal Day exposure to Jesus was shown to us now, the overload would blow our human circuitry. And yet, the Lord does want us to see him in this day, not just wait for that one. So he gives us “eyes of the heart”,* a Spirit-managed ability to see what he is like. We don’t get the full picture of that glory all at once, but he keeps adding light for more depth and detail of his beauty… long as we keep wanting to see him. All of life – not just the ‘religious’ times and activities – is an arena for seeing and admiring something about the Lord. The likelihood of that happening in the day’s busyness grows when we train the eyes of the heart to do it in our fixed prayer times.

Our inner eyes are God’s gift for taking in the view of him. And the clearest way to do that is to notice what he says about himself. Not just reading Scripture, but SEEING the truth carried in the words. I unpack this more in the book Shaped for Prayer Enjoyment, Chapter Two – A View to Fascinate the Pray-er, and Chapter Nine – Expanding Prayer Language.

Last week, a group of us were praying for someone seriously ill. Verses about the Lord’s power to heal flowed, and that was good. But when we slowed down to see the truth about him carried in the words we were quoting, the praying shifted. We moved from knowing that he heals to seeing his beauty as Healer. The seeing fed admiration of him, and admiration strengthened passion for him to show his glory as Healer. We went away having asked, but more than that, having taken in a fresh seeing of the Lord. When we work it into our fixed prayer times, the seeing of him (and our response) is more likely to keep surfacing throughout our day.

None of us (as far as I know) lives in monastic seclusion where, every couple of hours, a bell calls us to assemble and re-center on the Lord. I mentioned in the previous post how, on life’s busy highway, it’s easy to ‘forget’ the truth of God’s presence in a side-street. Our challenge is to not divorce life from awareness of Presence, but to make seeing and responding to him the frame for living. It’s helpful to have ‘bells’ through the day that call us to a quick review of how we’re doing and to refocus us. Some choose to set regular alerts on their mobile phones. It might not be possible to drop everything when the alarm sounds and take time out, but the alert does break into the highway’s distracting noise and invites the heart to see the Lord in the busyness. However, I prefer making association points, where certain activities become the bell(s) in the day.  An association point can be a particular mealtime, mid-morning coffee, bathroom break, boarding a train, starting a vehicle, changing a diaper, relaxing in a particular chair, etc. The plan is to associate one or more of our regular activities or places with an awareness of the Lord’s presence and a response (the view of him is often a replay of what was seen in a fixed prayer time). Initially the association must be planned and managed, but soon the discipline becomes a habit, a way of life in which the association points become triggers for centering on the Lord. Try it, and let me know if it helps you make the most of the view, seeing the Lord not only in the fixed prayer times but also through the busy day.

A journey beyond duty

When Philip Yancey started exploring the subject of prayer for his book, he interviewed ordinary people. “Typically, the results went like this: Is prayer important to you? Oh, yes. How often do you pray? Every day. Approximately how long? Five minutes – well, maybe seven. Do you find prayer satisfying? Not really. Do you sense the presence of God when you pray? Occasionally, not often. Many of those I talked to experienced prayer more as a burden than as a pleasure.” (Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? p14)

Our own answers might differ from those interviewed, but the questions highlight challenges we all face. Freedom in Christ opens up areas of responsibility we weren’t able to step into before. But it’s a freedom-journey that takes us beyond the familiar orbit of duty. Prayer is much too pivotal to confine to a must-do list. The Lord offers us the enjoyment of himself and the more we grow in this, the more the ‘want to pray’ overtakes the ‘must pray’.

Today’s favourite enjoyment

Responding to the Lord will be our supreme enjoyment forever. Our big challenge is to experience prayer as favourite enjoyment in the busyness and distractions of today.

Unless we keep prayer in the framework of God’s constant presence, it’s easy to lose the ‘response core’ that energizes enjoyable prayer life. How does the God-with-us truth impact us as pray-ers? Where does a raised heart take us that the unraised heart won’t. Can hunger for God reformat a prayer life?

We’ve been designed to live best with prayer as the nucleus, but how do we do that? Learning to agree with God in prayer is a lifelong adventure of learning. How can we use his thoughts to shape what we say to him? In other words, how can we learn to let him be the Lead Speaker in the prayer relationship? Our hearts are designed with a huge capacity for response to the Lord, but how can we stretch our prayer language to give our hearts that freedom?  What are some keys to upgrading corporate prayer times for greater authority and deeper enjoyment of praying together?

These are some of the areas covered in Shaped for Prayer Enjoyment, which came off the press yesterday and will be available in online bookstores soon (and, at this point, retail stores in UK). The book is an invitation to enjoy the prayer life adventure we were designed for.

WHY a book on prayer enjoyment?

WHY a book on prayer enjoyment? Most of us would score really good marks in a test on prayer beliefs, but we don’t do as well in prayer practice. The gap between belief and practice will never completely disappear as long as we’re imperfect people in a chaotic world. But the good news is: the gap shrinks as we grow in the enjoyment of prayer.

Authentic living means allowing the truth we believe to shape the way we live. We believe that:

  • God is the Guarantor of prayer joy, and
  • enjoyable conversation is at the heart of the God-us relationship, and
  • prayer (even the battle-and-burden ones) is his gift for our enjoyment of him.

But we want to translate these great beliefs into prayer life experience. As long as prayer is little more than an obligation, a dutiful service or a panic button for use in crises, we’re unlikely to reduce the gap. It’s when prayer becomes a favourite enjoyment that there’s real change in the gap size!

Recently, after teaching on ‘Enjoyable Prayer’, someone told me how they had grown up in a church culture where prayer was important, but enjoyment of it was irrelevant, even frowned on. The message seemed to be: the holier the work, the less we should enjoy it. That’s contrary to Kingdom values, isn’t it? Our transfer into Christ’s Kingdom has placed us in the realm of his perfect joy. Redeemed life is an adventure in the fullness of God, including his joy. And prayer is the main highway for our enjoyment of him. Shaped for Prayer Enjoyment was written out of the conviction that growing in enjoyable prayer is at the core of life in God’s company and is the cutting edge of Kingdom advance.

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The nameless pray-ers

Mizpah gives us a clip of Samuel, the pray-er in action. In 1 Sam 7 three things happened: Israel returned to the Lord, the Philistines advanced and Samuel prayed. I was sitting in a quiet Chiangmai coffee shop trying to visualize Samuel’s noisy, violent prayer arena.  On one side, a terrified, sure-to-lose army of Israel; on the other the terrifying, advancing, sure-to-win Philistine war machine. And then there was the pray-er, Samuel…. the game changer. Without him in the picture the outcome would have been predictable, but the pray-er’s involvement upset the ‘sure-to’ forecast. Samuel prayed, God thundered, the great Philistine army was destroyed and an invisible Hand kept them from re-crossing Israel’s borders for the duration of Samuel’s life. His mother, Hannah had prayed for a son and Sam was the answer. Then the boy  grew up into a pray-er whose asking brought God’s thunder and blessed the nation with deliverance and peace.

I opened to Psalm 99 and got no further than verse 6:

 Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them

Samuel – like Elijah – was a prayer news-maker, a pray-er of renown. But he was one man among those who called on the Lord. What about all the other pray-ers? Who were they? What were their names? What were their prayer accomplishments? How many times did heaven thunder in response to their prayers? We don’t know. The Lord has recorded the names of some pray-ers for us, but they are outnumbered by the company of nameless ones. He answered them too, but didn’t broadcast their names.

These are the faithful pray-ers who are happy to stay hidden. They have no desire to publish their prayer schedules and they talk little about the cost of their inner-room life. They’re glad for the chance to serve Jesus’ glory and don’t mind doing it away from the bright lights of the platform.

These nameless pray-ers might not have glowing reports of evangelistic adventures and full meeting schedules, or be able to share photos of great aid programmes and development projects, but if heaven would select just one of them and project to our smart phone screens the consequences of their prayer encounter times, it would probably put us face-down in amazement that so much “thunder” can result from one person who lives to pray him known.

The Lord allows the names of some of his choice intercessors to be promoted publicly, but a much larger number remain hidden, content to simply be known to him in the secret place. Of course, they won’t be hidden forever. The Final Day will thrust them into the spotlight, dressed in indescribable brilliance as Jesus honours them before the Father.

By now my quiet, little coffee table – fortunately in an empty corner – had become a Potter’s wheel. The Lord was shaping my heart, and letting me feel just a small measure of his affection for his present-day nameless pray-ers. Although he chooses not to announce their names on earth, he boasts of them in heaven. They are crucial to the outworking of every good thing he plans to do. Their praying in his name is a conduit of the impossible, supernatural advances of his kingdom in all nations! We can’t know how many nameless pray-ers are devoted to his glory on earth. But what we can conclude is this: there are still too few.

If his kingdom is to break through with greater power and his glory to shine with more strength in the world’s unlikely, resistant places, then the company of his nameless pray-ers must grow bigger. There’s no global sign-up sheet, no badge or daily roll-call for those who will join. We are simply to begin, and then keep doing it.

We know that the inner room (personal prayer life) is good, enjoyable and possible for us all. Yet many of us find it difficult to keep doing it. Why? Please share with us what you think are some of the most common obstacles or struggles Christians face with personal prayer life.

Looking forward to your comments.

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