Christmas of 2018 was one of the darkest times of my life. The spiritual struggle was nearly intolerable. The struggle was so bad that I developed an involuntary groan. I had been doing it for some time before I realized it was there. It came from the back of my throat and was part sigh and part exhale. It was involuntary, but it felt necessary. It helped to relieve the tensions of my inner struggle. A tiny relief valve keeping me from imploding. I left 2018 spiritually wounded and in need of healing. Then I remembered the promise. The Holy Spirit would intercede for us, interpreting our groans when we didn’t know what to pray for. I realized the Holy Spirit was preserving me through my groanings to the Lord.
I determined that I would have to pray my way through the coming year and out of the darkness. It was a tall task, because, sadly, my prayer-life was small and weak. As Eugene Peterson put it in his great book, Under the Unpredictable Plant, I needed a prayer life adequate for the complexity of my life. So I set out to cultivate such a prayer life. This was no pious spiritual undertaking, for me, this was survival. Looking back on it now, at the dawn 2020, here are the 6 things I learned.
Prayer Was My Lifeline
When the darkness was too much for me, prayer was my only connection to the Lord; my lifeline to the light. It was my means of survival. Prayer had never been a necessity for me. It was something I did in an attempt to take my spiritual growth in my own hands, but to me it was never necessary. But now I know it is. I pray now to maintain the vital connection to the Lord, who sustains me. Prayer has always been a bit of a mystery, as it will always be, but for me, I know why we are called to pray. It’s not to demonstrate our obedience. It’s because it’s vital. John Piper wrote in Let the Nations Be Glad that, life is war, and prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie used to call home-base for all of life’s supplies. This had never been real for me until the dark days at the end of 2018.
The Value of Getting Started
What kept me from praying so often was the erroneous notion that for prayer to be sincere it had to be spontaneous. What I found was my need to be spontaneous, in the absence of spontaneity, kept me silent before the Lord. It kept me from prayer.
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
Remember this child’s prayer. While it seems infantile now, when I was a child, I could pray every night and commune every night with the Lord. It was rote, but it was prayer. So I wrote down what I wanted to pray and I began to say that same prayer every night. I soon memorized it. And through the act of praying, of actively seeking my Father with my prayer in hand, the light of His presence began to pierce the darkness. Eventually, I found myself branching off from the rote prayer, extending my heart further to the Lord. As I look back on it, writing my prayer down and praying it regularly got me started, and freed me from the fear of not knowing what to say.
Getting Help With the Language of Prayer
Not knowing what to say is a real hurdle that must be overcome. I needed help with how to say the things I really wanted to say to the Lord. As much as people try to convince us that we can just talk to the Lord, we know the way we talk every day is not sufficient. When the Lord’s disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, He didn’t say, “just talk to Him.” No, He taught them what to say. Sometimes we need help with our vocabulary.
A great help to me was a little devotional that was given to me as a gift, called, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers. I don’t typically like devotionals, because I find most of them trite and simplistic. I find that they’re not adequate for the complexity of my life and struggles. But this little book has been a Godsend. It so often captures my deepest thoughts and desires in prayer, that I find myself repeating them often.
Another endless resource is the Psalms and the prayers of others in the bible. After I had prayed for my family; my wife, son, mother, sister, niece and nephews, I would ask the Lord to, “satisfy us in the morning with your lovingkindness.” It’s from Psalm 90, that I had memorized. As I wrote about in The Shelter of The Almighty, Psalm 91 was what I reached for when I had fears. When I prayed for the members of SouthPoint church, I would say these words for them,
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.Ephesians 1:18,19
The Rhythm of Prayer
The last three things I learned about prayer are summed up in these rhythms of prayer. First, I found that when I prayed I had to say the words aloud. I had to open my mouth and pray. Praying in my head, or with my mind alone, caused my mind to wander, and I too often lost focus, and the rhythm was lost. Saying the words helped me stay focused. Second, I found that getting on my knees beside the bed helped. I was assuming a posture of prayer. I was bowing before Him. The time before the Lord on my knees was better than when I tried to pray lying in bed. Praying from bed caused me to lose reverence and focus. And again the rhythm was broken. And lastly, I prayed at the same time every night. I kept showing up for prayer. No matter what time I finished my daily responsibilities, before I got into bed, I knelt for prayer. I paused for a moment in silence to still myself and then I began the prayer I had written. And my time with the Lord blossomed from there. This became my rhythm of prayer. The time became a joy and settled me down after a rough day. I found it gave me my equilibrium back. It was a means of stability. I took my fears, which were many, to Him and He calmed them. In prayer the Lord healed me. And that has kept me coming back.
If you found this blog post helpful, let me know and share it with a friend. And let’s pray our way together through 2020.