In his classic work, "The Celebration of Discipline", Richard Foster reflects:
"The purpose of meditation is to enable us to hear God more clearly. Meditation is listening, sensing, heeding the life and light of Christ. This comes right to the heart of our faith. The life that pleases God is not a set of religious duties; it is to hear His voice and obey His word. Meditation opens the door to this way of living...
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... All who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives... For those explorers in the frontiers of faith, prayer was no little habit tacked on to the periphery of their lives; it was their lives. It was the most serious work of their most productive years. Prayer – nothing draws us closer to the heart of God."
These words convict me. How often, and how easily, does prayer become - if not practically abandoned - for us, "a little habit, tacked onto the periphery" of our lives? And why is it so difficult to face this question, this observation, without simply stumbling into that sense of disheartening guilt that comes with the lifeless spectre of "religious obligation"?
As I pondered some last week, I do wonder if this struggle is due in large part to the fact that as a culture, and far too often as churches, we have long since drifted into a practical disbelief in the soul and spirit of our humanity. We struggle, it seems to me, to perceive and appreciate that quality and power of those aspects of our life which lie beyond and beneath the purely physical. We easily grasp the value which things like food, sex, money, security and entertainment seem to bring to our lives, and the vast majority of our days on earth will be spent in the dogged, relentless pursuit of these things. But what of the life of the spirit? That Creator-imaging soul which is the aspect of our being distinguishing us from the simply animal and un-eternal in the world, more often than not goes un-perceived, ignored, and chronically malnourished. We struggle to appreciate the reality of the spiritual, even though it is that which makes us truly human. As a result, even as those who would be followers of Jesus, we struggle to comprehend the power, privilege and calling that we are presented with in the gift of prayer, among other disciplines. Prayer becomes a token, an incidental, an act of religious obligation; all the while our souls whither away within us, and our life in Christ is reduced to a powerless shell of religious institutionalism and intellectual assent. Do we long for more than this, as individuals and as a community of faith?
I do. And, in offering these thoughts I do not presume to cast stones; powerless, peripheral prayer has been too often characteristic of my own journey with Christ! But now I find that I hunger for more. I feel convicted and compelled that in this season of life and ministry it must be none other than the life of prayer that becomes the form and force of my most serious work. And this is work not only for me to undertake privately, on my own, but a work to be done in the midst of and alongside of YOU all, my family of faith and tribe of grace! The communal forms and future invitations of this conviction are still just now coming into focus, but we do have at present an opportunity to lean into this developing conversation, together.
Tonight our community will gather, for the work and privilege of prayer, here at 155 Charles St., 7:00pm. The Lord is stirring. The Spirit of God is conspiring with his people to advance the frontiers of his Kingdom, both within and through us, in this place. Will you join the conversation? Would you, PRAY?