Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Way of the Heart Part 3

“Very few ministers will deny that prayer is important. They will not even deny that prayer is the most important dimension of their lives. But the fact is that most ministers pray very little or not at all. They realize that they should not forget to pray, that they should take time to pray, and that prayer should be a priority in their lives. But all these “shoulds” do not have the power to carry them over the enormous obstacle of their activism. There is always one more phone call, one more letter, one more visit, one more meeting, one more book, and one more party. Together these form an insurmountable pile of activities.

This starts the section of Nouwen’s third part to his book, The Way of the Heart. It seems like prayer, although it is one of the most important and unique aspects to the life of faith is also often quite readily neglected. Even in my own life, it is so easy to get caught up in a flurry of activity, that I neglect speaking and listening to God through the habit of prayer. Nouwen says it this way, “The temptation is to go mad with those who are mad and to go around yelling and screaming, telling everyone where to go, what to do, and how to behave.” That is not a life of prayer though.

In Nouwen’s book, he reminds the reader of the importance of prayer above all things. It is through prayer that we are able to discern what other parts of our life are truly born out of true servitude and what parts are born out of a need to stroke our own egos.

C.S. Lewis calls prayer “the irksome discipline.” We often attach it to various parts of our day, but I believe often it can become just a formality before a meal or at some other time. Nouwen reminds us, “Our compulsive, wordy, and mind-oriented world has a firm grip on us, and we need a very strong and persistent discipline not to be squeezed to death by it.”

I think we value being productive so much that prayer doesn’t reap the kind of instant results that we like to see, and have grown so accustomed to. I mean, I was just driving by the hospital in Morgantown last night, and I was amazed at the fact there are multiple new buildings going up that really just got started in the summer—these buildings are HUGE!!! We can be so productive and see the fruit of our labors almost immediately, so we avoid the real work of faith—prayer.

I was just thinking as I wrote this, that sometimes God manifests Himself instantly when we pray. But many other times, it is like starting a garden. We till the soil of our heart with the word of God and then plant a tiny seed of prayer. God takes that tiny seed, and something beautiful and life-sustaining emerges from it. The challenge is that sometimes God lets that seed germinate over several days or weeks. And sometimes, for whatever reason, God in His sovereign wisdom sees that the best response to the planting of a seed is to let it change and become a tool for other seeds to grow—to fertilize the ground.

I’m always challenged when I read any book or essay on prayer because I realize the extreme challenge it gives me to nourish and strengthen this aspect of my life. After all, Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” Nouwen’s book reminds the reader that as one grows in the prayer of the heart, that prayer becomes a form of rest in God which we remain in constantly.

As you go through your day today, ask yourself. What is my prayer life like? Does it have much life at all? Is it a smattering of knee-jerk reactions to circumstances or is a way of abiding in the gentle yoke and easy burden of Jesus. Do my prayers become manifest in the way I live? Do I really seek “His Kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” I hope as you read this note you join me in reflection, in growth, and in gently and patiently planting seeds of prayer in well tilled soil of the heart.

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