Friday, June 17, 2005

Blogging Celebration of Discipline: Chapter 3

I have joined a group of fellow Christians who are blogging through Richard Foster’s classic book Celebration of Discipline, one chapter at a time. Each Friday, we post our thoughts and questions about the chapter we’ve read that week. Here’s my post on Chapter 3, "The Discipline of Prayer."

If you’re interested in joining this group blog, go here.


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Muley has been a bad, bad boy. I read through Chapter 2 last week on meditation, not understanding or connecting to much of what Richard Foster wrote about it, and I wrote in my post that I would read through the chapter again in an attempt to truly "get" it. Well, I haven't. No. 1, I've been busy, and No. 2, I guess the concept of being quiet and simply listening to God is still so foreign and difficult for me to wrap my brain around, it's akin to trying to learn Japanese on the flight over to Tokyo. I will re-read that chapter, but not now.

Chapter 3 is on prayer, and at least that I know something about. Granted, most of what I do know about prayer are things that I should be doing but aren't, but nevertheless it's something familiar that's been in my life since I was very young. So at least I have a frame of reference to deal with when I'm reading what Foster has to say.

On to the chapter itself. This one hit home for me, because it spoke to what I’m doing and not doing in my relationship with God right now, and what I can do to change.

Speaking of change, Foster says right off the bat that’s what prayer is all about:
“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. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.”
By this formula, I have mostly been unwilling to change lately. I'd better listen closely.

Foster goes on to say that the end result of prayer shouldn’t be to make us feel good or to get our list of wants checked off, but to transform our passions:
In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills. Progressively, we are taught to see things from his point of view.”
One thing I like about this chapter is that Foster talks about a number of hindrances to, or hangups about, prayer, then lines them up and swats them down one by one:

PRAYER CAN’T CHANGE ANYTHING Foster points out the belief that since everything in the universe is already set, things can’t be changed, and if things can’t be changed, why pray? But he shows how Paul and other “Bible pray-ers prayed as if their prayers could and would make an objective difference,” and says Stoicism, not the Bible, teaches a closed universe. “We are to change the world by prayer,” Foster concludes. “What more motivation do we need to learn this loftiest human exercise?”

WE SHOULD JUST “KNOW” HOW TO PRAY Nope. Foster says “real prayer is something we learn.” Even the disciples, he says, had to learn how to pray, and we do, too:
“It was liberating to me to understand that prayer involved a learning process. I was set free to question, to experiment, even to fail, for I knew I was learning.”
WE CAN’T ACT TOO SURE ABOUT WHAT WE ASK FOR Since there are so many kinds of prayer, Foster uses this chapter to discuss only one kind: prayer for others. When he discusses prayers we make on others’ behalf, Foster attacks the kind of tentative prayer request I have made many times, the “If it be thy will” prayer. He says there’s not a single instance in the Bible -- except for prayers of guidance when we are seeking God’s will -- where Jesus or the disciples wrapped up a request for someone else with the caveat “If it be thy will”:
“They obviously believed that they knew what the will of God was before they prayed the prayer of faith. They were so immersed in the milieu of the Holy Spirit that when they encountered a specific situation, they knew what should be done...I saw that when praying for others there was evidently no room for indecisive, tentative, half-hoping, ‘If it be thy will’ prayers...I began praying for others with an expectation that a change should and would occur.”
PRAY BIG Foster says while big prayers are certainly important, praying small prayers for others will make prayer a daily habit for us. He says, “Success in the small corners of life gives us authority in the larger matters.”

I DON’T HAVE FAITH ENOUGH TO PRAY SUCCESSFULLY Foster reminds us that the Bible says great miracles are possible through faith the size of a mustard seed:
“Usually, the courage actually to go and pray for a person is a sign of sufficient faith. Frequently our lack is not faith but compassion. It seems that genuine empathy between the pray-er and the pray-ee often makes the difference.”
PRAYER TOO SIMPLE IS NOT EFFECTIVE OR CORRECT This, right here, is where I got my money’s worth from this chapter. My heart tells me prayer should be simple, a child talking to his Father, but I have read a few books by very popular Christian prayer “experts” (I won’t name names) that left me feeling so inadequate. To these authors, praying involves certain preliminary incantations, then attention paid to four or five areas of prayer request (in a certain order), followed by specific closing subjects one has to mention -- all done with zeal and sincerity and profound feeling, for at least 30 minutes a day.

Foster believes that prayer should instead be like what I’ve hoped it should be all along:
“We should never make prayer too complicated...Jesus taught us to come like children to a father. Openness, honesty and trust mark the communication of children with their father. The reason God answers prayer is because his children ask.”

“Jesus taught us to pray for daily bread. Have you ever noticed that children ask for lunch in utter confidence that it will be provided? They have no need to stash away today’s sandwiches for fear none will be available tomorrow. As far as they are concerned, there is an endless supply of sandwiches. Children do not find it difficult or complicated to talk with their parents, nor do they feel embarrassed to bring the simplest need to their attention. Neither should we hesitate to bring the simplest requests confidently to the Father.”
This has given me new inspiration and enthusiasm for prayer. If prayer is indeed just a child talking simply and matter-of-factly to his father, I can do that. And I don’t need always to wait for “correct conditions” -- a quiet spot, 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, all my requests lined up like ducks in a row, the major ones first, the small ones only if time and energy allow. I can pray anytime, for anything, about anyone. And that is a wonderful blessing.

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Here are some other bloggers' posts on Chapter 3:

Messy Christian
DB on DB