We begin this journey by diving into J.I Packer and Carolyn Nystrom’s “Praying.” You’ll notice by the title that it is only part 1. Confession time, I underestimated the heaviness of the book. I didn’t quite realize that both J.I Packer and Carolyn Nystrom could pack so much into one chapter until I began reading it and taking notes. So to make it easier to read and to write I have decided to split it up into parts. What I have enjoyed so far about this book is that the first chapter establishes that it is the God of the Bible that we pray to. Without establishing that basis, we are essentially praying to who knows what. From this chapter, flows the basis, reason and application for every other chapter. That is, we get to pray to God, essentially we get to spend time in communion, talking and walking in closeness with the Trinity.
However, even with that amazing truth, many of us (myself included) find it difficult to pray. J.I Packer makes three points. He states that 1)we need to pray, 2)we are told to pray, and 3)we want to pray. We understand the importance of prayer, but we aren’t satisfied in how we pray. If we were to track how we pray, most often times we would notice that our prayers change. We pray differently during our life stages. According to Packer when we are young Christians we burble, like a little child burbles to their parents, and as we become older we attempt to be more mature and reverent in praying. However in the process of changing we become less happy in the way we pray.
In an effort to essentially reignite our prayer life, we seek help and different techniques to pray. These techniques work for a time, but soon we find ourselves back where we started: unhappy with the way we pray. A new technique or a different one will not solve this problem.
With that being said, many believers (myself included) turn to routinized prayer. That is, establishing a set time to pray. While routine prayer is beneficial in some ways, J.I Packer warns us to tread carefully while establishing a routine. This is due to the fact that a set time and set ways can easily lead to it (praying) being mechanical. The problem of it being mechanical is that it then becomes a daily activity that requires little thought from the participant. It is here that J.I Packer compares mechanized prayer to brushing our teeth. He writes “We must discern whether prayer has not become for us a mechanical routine we are able to carry out to our own satisfaction…something like the way we carry out the daily exercise of cleaning our teeth. We don’t think about cleaning our teeth; we simply do it. If we routinize prayer in the same way, we don’t have to think seriously about it at all, but we can go through the day with a nice warm feeling inside telling ourselves and God, “I’ve said my prayers; I’ve done it.”” This statement, for me at least served as a warning…and encouragement on my prayer life. A warning because my prayer life could all too well be mechanical, and encouragement because it stirs in me a desire to really wrestle, think and look to see if my prayer life is mechanical. And if it is, how then can it change?(not going to answer that just quite yet, but it is certain that this book will give solid suggestions how. Big hint: all of it is useless unless it is through the Holy Spirit…just saying). J.I Packer makes two points on how we’ll react with mechanical prayer the first is that we’ll be disappointed. We will be disappointed because a routine was supposed to establish a vibrant prayer life within them, instead it didn’t move them at all…or the feeling didn’t last. The second point is that the believer will be encouraged but for the wrong reasons. Meaning that the believer will be encouraged, not because he/she got to spend time with Jesus, but rather because he/she prayed at the correct time.
J.I Packer then makes 2 really good points of routine prayer. He differentiates between mechanical routine and a good routine. For mechanical routine he states that it can come from tired souls. He writes that having a tired soul “reduces prayer to an item to be ticked off in the checklist of things to do-preferably with as little mental and emotional engagement as possible…tired souls drop into the same semi-automatic mode of actions as tired bodies, and in that way prayer as a mechanical routine can become a mindless task that creates a sense of spiritual security that is false.” With mechanized prayer, it essentially becomes something we do without ever putting much thought into the reason why, and while it makes us feel good and encouraged it is only a false sense of security and encouragement. The reason will be explained at the end of this entry.
He then states that good routine prayer is like “wise couples who live busy lives” They “plan the time of day when they are going to talk about how the day has gone and just enjoy being together.” They (believers) that pray meaningfully plan in advance how they will use the time that they set apart to spend with Jesus. Basically like wise couples, we should set some time to spend with Jesus as well as plan something on what to talk to Him about as we spend the time with Him. Of course, doing this doesn’t mean that all our problems will be solved. Doing this may help a bit, but we will find that on a day to day basis we still struggle with prayer.
That struggle will be covered in part 2 of this chapter. (which should happen within the next several days or so)
Some final thoughts before ending this entry:
– J.I Packer warns us that routine prayer, while at times can be beneficial, can also be dangerous. While it begins as a way to draw closer to God, it can easily become the goal. Meaning that our goal shifts from being close to God and shifts to praying at a set time. So be careful, look for signs of it becoming mechanized (are we mentally and emotionally engaged or do we zone out? etc.)
– Plan some things for the time you get to spend time with God. This won’t solve all our problems and struggles with prayer, but I believe that it is something important that we should do.