In the previous post we looked at the difficulty we have (as believers) in praying and the dangers (and benefits) of routine prayer. For those of you, dear readers, that need a refresher, or have just joined us you can click here.
Today, in continuation of this chapter, we will look at what J.I Packer and Carolyn Nystrom have to say about “The Struggle of Praying.” If you recall with the previous post Packer states that routine prayer can be beneficial, but it isn’t a cure-all technique. If we were to be honest, most of us would admit to struggling with prayer on a day-to-day basis.
The struggle of prayer is very real. The struggle we have in speaking and listening to God in prayer is also important to understand. J.I Packer quotes an Anglican bishop named John Charles Ryle, who notes the importance of but also the struggle of praying. I will not put the entire excerpt (because it is long!) but I will put the parts that I believe are important. Ryle writes (as quoted by Packer):
“I ask…whether you pray, because a habit of prayer is on of the surest marks of a true Christian…Just as the first sign of life in an infant when born into the world is the act of breathing, so the first act of men and women when they are born again is praying…It is as much a part of their new nature to pray as it is of a child to cry. They see their need of mercy and grace. They feel their emptiness and weakness. They cannot do otherwise than they do. They must pray.
I ask whether you pray because there is no duty in religion so neglected as private prayer…Words said without heart are as utterly useless to our souls as the drumbeating of the poor heathen before their idols. Where there is no heart, there may be lip-work and tongue-work, but there is nothing that God listens to; there is no prayer…
Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. I cannot forget this. I look at men’s lives. I believe that few pray. I ask whether you pray, because diligence in prayer is the secret of eminent holiness…I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much.
There are few children of God who do not often find the season of prayer a season of conflict…
It is essential to your soul’s health to make praying a part of the business of every twenty-four hours of your life…Whatever else you make a business of, make a business of prayer.
…A Christian never finds he is a loser, in the long run, by persevering in prayer.
Tell me what a man’s prayers are, and I will soon tell you the state of his soul. Prayer is the spiritual pulse. By this the spiritual health may be tested…Oh, let us keep an eye continually upon our private devotions.”
Ryle encourages us that praying well isn’t an impossibility. He is certain, positively so, that the problems we have with praying are not impossible to solve. However he is also honest to the fact that while prayer is important, we, as Christians, do struggle with it.
For this, J.I Packer writes “that the key to heartfelt, meaningful, enriching realism in our prayers” have three points:
1) Clear realization of the reality of God: this only can come from knowing the facts about Him that come from the Scriptures.
2) Continual practices of the presence of God: This comes from the awareness that one is always under God’s eye and in His hands. And also, as a Christian, we are in the in intimate company of God. It is here that J.I Packer paints a beautiful picture of our relationship with the Triune God.
J.I Packer writes” Everybody’s life on this earth is like a hike through scenic open country, which with its ups and downs, smooth places and rough places, sets both difficulties and delights before each person who travels through it. The Christians life has in it the same ups and downs that mark the lives of other people, but Christians hike in company with friends: and we are not thinking here of human friends, though ordinarily they are there too, but of these three divine Friends, who never leave one’s side. As with human friends who come along with you when you go hiking, you rejoice in the fellowship of the holy Three and in what they bring that will help you along. You are glad of their company, and you do not forget for a single moment that they are there, which is what the practice of God’s presence basically means.” So then, the practice of the presence of God is remembering and enjoying the fact that every single moment you go through life, through all it’s highs, lows, smooth plateaus and uneven ground, walking along side the Trinity. You get walk alongside them, in their presence, participating in what they do, but more (I would argue, most) importantly you can talk directly to them, listen to what they have to say, and be encouraged and just enjoy being within their presence.
3) Constant endeavor to please God: Which comes from love to God, which comes from seeing His creation, but more importantly by the power of redemption. We know the love of the God the Father because even though, he knew full well that we could not and would not love him on our own, He still loved us enough to send his Son to be the propitiation (essentially payment) for our sins (1Jn4:10). We know that Jesus loves us because he gave himself for us (Gal2:20). And we know the love of the Spirit because, he has given us a new heart, one that comes from Christ. And the Spirit is in us that that we can be more like Jesus (in mind, heart, thoughts, words, actions). He (the Spirit) is also grieved when we move from the path of holiness (Eph4:30). For this endeavor J.I Packer argues that when we realize “the love of the holy Three, who in the unity of their being are the ‘Lord my God’ to each of us, we are motivated supremely by what Isaac Watts called ‘the debt of love I owe’ to love of the Three-in-One in response, and we find ourselves saying-praying!-with William Cowper:
Lord, it is my chief complaint
That my love is weak and faint;
Yet I love thee, and adore;
O for grace to love thee more!”
Packer, makes three great points. Although it is implied within the book, I do not believe I have really made it clear while talking about those three points, so I would like to point out that those three points can only work together. In fact they most certainly build upon each other. If we were trying to do one or two of them, but we do not include the rest, everything falls apart. All three of the points work hand in hand, but cannot work separately.
We finally come to the final point. With the final point, Packer makes a very telling observation on why we struggle to pray, however, this observation doesn’t just fit into the category of prayer but it affects everything in the Christians life. And his point is our loss of the proper view of God is due to our very own Biblical illiteracy. On this point J.I Packer writes “Our first move must be to clear the ground by putting out of our minds the fantasies about God that the human imagination so readily comes up with. We hear people say, ‘I like to think of God in such-and-such a way…’ Let it be said, loud and clear, that this ‘I like’ mindset guarantees that all concepts of God that we form by our speculation and wishful thinking will be seriously wrong. Sin, the anti-God syndrome in our mental, moral and spiritual system, ensures that this will be so. Such ideas in fact lead only to a bottom line of uncertainty, so that people end up confused and bewildered about the God who is supposed to be the focus of their lives.” It is here that he invites us along with him to explore the character of the God of the Bible through 8 truths (which will be revealed in the next 2 posts). He asks us to make a conscious decision to get away from theological guesswork, dreams and our opinions and just look at the Bible and what God has to say about Himself through his living Word.
So join back with me (and J.I Packer) within the next few days as we look at the 3rd part of “The God we Pray to” and part 1 of “This is your God”
Some thoughts before finishing this post:
1) Clear realization of the Reality of God, Continual practice of the Presence of God, and the Constant endeavor to please God. Can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit, and this only happens when we have an understanding and life-changing belief of the Gospel. Let me be clear, the three points that J.I Packer argues for, only work together with the Gospel at the center of it all. Those three points, when centered in the Gospel will naturally flow into and work with one another within our lives. We come to understand the reality of God because of the Cross, and because of that realization we want to constantly be in His presence. This can only come because of the Cross. and because of those two points we desire to please God. This can only come because of the Cross. Remove the Cross and those three points will not function and will fall apart.
2)Bishop Ryle argues that “Prayer is the spiritual pulse” of the Christians life. In some sense I do agree. The time we spend with God in heartfelt, prayer can be an indication of our spiritual health, not just once in the morning, once at night and before and after we read our Bible. But also throughout the day as we go about our business. Ryle encourages us to make prayer our business. So I will too. However, I also offer the warning, not to make daily consistent prayer your goal, but rather remember that it is the means that God uses to bring us into a closer, deeper, relationship with Himself.
3) Finally, read and study the Bible. So that you can know the God of the Bible, what He says, who He is, what He does and will do, and what He promises. To understand the God of the Bible, we must spend time with Him in His word and in prayer. Not just us speaking, but also letting the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) speak into our lives.