Prayer is the foundation of intimacy with God, the “inward movement” that we make toward God. Thomas Merton broadens this vision by writing that prayer “means yearning for the simple presence of God, for a personal understanding of his word, for knowledge of his will and for capacity to hear and obey him.” Sharing this vision, Geoffrey Wainwright maintains that spirituality is nothing less than the “combination of prayer and living.”
All I know is that when I pray, I draw near to God. When I don’t, my soul and spirit drift far, far away.
The purpose of the ancient monastic movement – the opus Dei – was to create a life of prayer as the “work of God,” that act whereby we “place God upon our heart.” Scripture may be the foundation of the relationship itself, for it is through revelation that this God is named and known, but intimacy with this revealed God is gained through the “presence” that comes in an act of prayer. As Quaker writer Douglas Steere has written:
It is not that he is not present at other times but that by this voluntary act of ours, the act of prayer, we are enabled to break with our outer preoccupations and to become aware of the presence and of what that presence does to search and to transform and to renew us and to send us back into life again.
But this is difficult. Teresa of Avila, a saint who has taught so many about prayer, confessed, “Very often I was more occupied with the wish to see the end of my hour for prayer. I used to actually watch the sandglass. And the sadness that I sometimes felt on entering my prayer-chapel was so great that it required all my courage to force myself inside.”
I know how she felt.
But prayer is not meant to be an experience-driven event. If it were, I know that I would be extremely frustrated and greatly discouraged. I doubt I would pray as often as I do. Instead, prayer is relationship driven. I pray because I am in a relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, and apart from prayer I would not have much of a relationship.
I enter into communication, conversation and communion with God through prayer. It is when I lay out the pieces of my life on God’s altar, and when He then returns them to me anew (Psalm 5:3).
So, like many others, I come to God daily for prayer.
Often empty, often having to woodenly plod through the acrostic ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) as my soul often needs help to find its way, I tell God I love Him, and offer Him praise for who He is; I confess my sins – specifically, graphically – as my mind scrolls through the day before; I thank God for all that I have been given, acknowledging that every good and perfect gift comes from above; and I ask Him for help – to intervene, to provide, to come to my rescue.
And it matters.
I have found that prayer, no matter how dry, forced, or mechanical it might be, opens my life to a longer conversation and communication with God throughout the day. It is as if my morning prayer invites Him into the flow of things and sets Him prominently in the forefront of my thoughts and feelings. From this, I am able to engage the world I live in – and which lives in me – with a transcendent mooring instead of a temporal one. My inner world is transformed, for it is wrenched away from life lived on the hurried, frantic level of activity and thrust into the eternity of soul and spirit.
There God speaks, corrects, reminds, renews. I then find myself able to walk through the world with sharpened eyes, increased sensitivity to the Spirit’s promptings, heightened insight and deepened wisdom.
Even more, when I have come to God in prayer and asked for Him to infuse my life with His power and provision, I tap into the resources of heaven itself.
Apart from this, I can do nothing.
James Emery White
Adapted from James Emery White, Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day (InterVarsity Press). Click here to order this resource from Amazon.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.