This fall, we are looking at developing habits of prayer to help us grow deep roots of faith. By building our faith life on the rock of God (see Matthew 7:24), we will be stronger and more resilient as we walk through difficult times.
In the last reflection, we looked at finding a time and place in which we can bring our prayers to God. As we develop this habit, it is important in the back of our minds to remember that the life of prayer is much larger than daily times of prayer. Two insights are important. First: at its heart, prayer is the name for a whole life lived in light of God’s mercy. More than just words, prayer is a lifestyle. Second, there is no one way of doing prayer. We come before the living God in an enormous variety of ways. Let me say a few words about both of these insights.
1. Prayer is a Whole Life Lived in Light of the Mercy of God
Don’t worry if that is not where you find yourself now. The Christian tradition has always taught that developing a life of prayer is a growth process. Many early church teachers described this process as three stages: purgation, illumination and union. I won’t unpack these stages here, except to say that prayer is like every other serious endeavour: it takes time and practice.
For instance, we all know that if you want to become a master electrician, you can only do it by starting out as an apprentice and working your way through to the journeyman stage. This is not because there are elites at the top who want to keep you out. It is just that to be an electrician, you need experience as well as knowledge. Not only do you need to know how electrical systems work, but you have to practice the trade for long enough that you develop ‘a feel’ for how that knowledge applies in real situations. When you get that ‘feel,’ you know that you are becoming a master.
It is the same with prayer. A mature, centered Christian is someone whose life has been formed by habits of prayer, worship, service, and sacrifice over many years. They develop ‘a feel’ for how God is working in their life and in the lives of others. Every action they do is in the light of God. Ultimately, this is what we mean by a life of prayer. It is far more than sitting in your chair and praying; it is a Christ-shaped life. Prayer is a lifestyle that encompasses and affects everything we say and do. But it doesn’t start there. It starts in your chair.
2. A Lifestyle of Prayer Has Great Variety
Different times in our lives call for different ways of meeting God. Pete Greig describes nine paths of prayer. Other teachers break it up differently. But the point is there is a time for every season under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). A lifestyle of prayer will look different for different people and across different stages of life.
Sometimes, we want to pray for people we love. That is Intercession. At other times, we are so grateful to God that we need to give Thanksgiving. Perhaps we find that we are in awe of something amazing that has happened, and we want to praise God for his creation. That is Adoration. Maybe we have messed up and so we come to God for forgiveness. That is Confession. Sometimes we are grieving and in great pain. That is a time for Lamentation. There is a time for Singing and Praising, and there is a time for Quiet and Stillness. There is a time for Listening and a time for Speaking. All of it is prayer.
Over the next several reflections, I am going to work through Greig’s list of nine paths: Stillness, Adoration, Petition, Intercession, Perseverance, Contemplation, Listening, Confession, and Spiritual Warfare. As we work our way through these paths of prayer, I hope you will find that prayer is not a chore; it is a great adventure!