I have met a scarce few fellow believers who are satisfied with their prayer lives. The demands of a fast-paced society can quickly throw us into frustration for seasons at a time in regards to our spiritual disciplines. Often, our prayers are sporadic at best and bear a striking resemblance to our web surfing, jumping from one place to the next without giving much thought as to why we were online in the first place.
It’s not that the Lord doesn’t honor the “Oh-yeah-I-need-to-pray-real-quick” kind of prayers that are conjured up in the shower, during the morning commute, or in the remaining few moments before drifting off to sleep. He most certainly does. But the truth is, we are frustrated with such a spastic approach to prayer, because deep down inside we know that such an important component to the Christian life demands a more intentional, more focused and fervent approach. One practical solution for some could be the implementation of a prayer journal. There are several ways a prayer journal might be able to help combat some of our frustrations and provide the missing pieces of intentionality and organization that are absent from our present technique:
1. Writing out prayers helps guard against distraction. The problem of drifting in thought while in prayer is at least as old as Gethsemane, and that was well before the age of the 30 second commercial and the 9 second soundbite. Our brains have been conditioned not to stay in one place for too long. This, of course, is not new. Martin Luther struggled with it as well. “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope.” Writing out our prayers, hunkered over a piece of paper with a pen, looks a little bit like a dog to a piece of meat. It creates a sense of awareness to the need of finishing the task. We don’t get up until there’s no meat on the bone, or at least until we have written “Amen.”
2. Writing out prayers has the added benefit of being able to look back and see spiritual growth. As our children grow up they ask for more mature things. At least, I hope that my daughter no longer wants a baby panda whenever she is in her 20s. A written prayer is frozen in time and opens itself up to scrutiny by a more seasoned version of yourself later on in life. Can you imagine the embarrassment of reading through the prayers of your junior high years? But imagine if you had actually written them? Hopefully, you would see evidence of spiritual growth, how the Lord has transitioned your deepest desires from making the basketball team and marrying the cheerleader to providing for your family and leading your home spiritually. A prayer journal takes pictures of the sanctification process and allows an opportunity for rejoicing in the Lord’s faithfulness in conforming you more into the image of Christ.
3. Writing out prayers allows opportunity to observe how the Lord has answered our prayers. Rarely do we have an opportunity to reflect upon the Lord’s faithfulness in answering our prayers. Perhaps some of our suspicion regarding the power of prayer could be curtailed simply by observing how the Lord has responded when we have petitioned him in the past. The fact that we may doubt the efficacy of prayer has more to do with our own self-centeredness and forgetfulness than it does God’s occasional silence. Observing the Lord’s past provision creates a greater longing to see more of God’s provision in the future, and a greater longing to see more of God’s provision in the future creates more a more fervent prayer-life in the present. Writing out our prayers removes the self-righteous luxury of forgetting what we prayed and assuming that we have overcome our various obstacles and trials by our own might.
Give it a try. Get yourself a good pen and some good paper. Start with trying to journal one or two prayers a week for a season. Allow yourself enough grace to fail a few times, but stay with it. You will see an increased desire to approach the Lord in prayer.
Originally posted by Trevin Wax over a year ago, this was worthy of being revived for a fresh post here:
In the book Live Sent: You Are a Letter, Jason Dukes lays out 10 questions to help Christians discern whether or not they are operating with a missional mindset. I’ve adapted and explained them below. Challenging words!
1. When you speak of church, what prepositions do you use?
Do you focus on church as a place or event more than a people who are sent?
2. When you think of missions, do you think of a mission trip to a distant city and a service project in your own community or do you think about daily life among your family, neighbors, and coworkers?
The answer should be both. Living sent means you are a missionary in your everyday encounters.
3. What is your common declaration about lost people around you? “Can you believe the way those people act?” OR “When can you come over for dinner?”
Hospitality is a key to living sent.
4. Is my tendency to disengage from culture and retreat into safer, more Christian environments? Or is it to engage culture even amidst discomfort and danger?
We must be among lost people in order to be an effective witness.
5. When you hear “make disciples,” do you think of a classroom or your relationships?
We should be equipped to disciple people in the daily routine of life, not just the classroom.
6. Do you spend a lot of time wondering whether you should quit your job to surrender to ministry? Or do you simply live to minister to anyone and everyone where you are currently?
Pastoral ministry is vitally important, but too many Christians are unaware that they too are involved in ministry to the people around them.
7. When you think of a friend who needs help, do you think, “I need to get him to see the pastor” OR “I wonder what I can do to help”?
Pastors are to equip God’s people to do the work of the ministry, not be the only ones who minister and witness to the lost.
8. When you think of heaven, do you think “kingdom come” or “kingdom is here”?
As people who believe the kingdom is both now and not yet, we ought to live as people who are the “presence of the future.”
9. Do you think godliness is measured with a mirror or within community?
Introspection (the mirror) is not the only way we become holy before the world. Jesus said people would see our fruit through our love for and life with other believers. “An intimate, shared life with God is most clearly demonstrated in intimate, shared life with one another.”
10. Do you have a lost friend who would actually introduce you as his or her friend?
If we are to live sent the way the sent One intended, then we must have genuine friendship with the lost too.
I had a theology professor one time who, in my estimate, found the solution to preventing his job from sounding boring to his young children whenever they asked him the question, “What are you going to do at work today, Dad?” Instead of rattling off the typical laundry list of professor things—meetings, classes, libraries, journal articles, research—he aimed instead at the big picture:
“Son, I’m going to go fight against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against all the spiritual forces of evil.”
Now that is an engaging job description.
Of course, he didn’t come up with that verbiage on his own. He borrowed that language straight from Ephesians 6:12. He took his duty as a professor and tied it to what the apostle Paul says is not just the responsibility of those who have been given the task of vocational ministry, but of every believer who goes about any task whatsoever; whether it be with a hard hat and a hammer, a three piece suit and a stack of papers, or the same pair of yoga pants you had on yesterday and a house full of young children.
Ephesians 6:12 is an important passage to keep in the arsenal in order to guard against the kind of dissatisfaction that creeps in to the Christian life and leads so often to a paralyzing complacency toward our own present existence. Paul’s words remind us that boredom is bad theology. There is no such thing as a “normal” task for a believer. If we take Ephesians 6:12 seriously, it means that all of our day-to-day duties, as monotonous as they may seem, must be done with armor on. And when you’re wearing armor, things are always more interesting.
That we don’t see things this way is a direct result of the fact that we have bought into the false dichotomy that says that there are a few things we do that are sacred, while most things we do are secular. We think, pastors have been given sacred responsibilities; accountants and school teachers, secular ones. When I am at church, I engage in the sacred act of worship; when I am in the tractor, the secular act of plowing. There is no room for such thinking in light of the fact there is a constant war going on against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against all the spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:12).
The enemy doesn’t compartmentalize our lives that way, but I have to believe that he is happy if we do. A combatant who thinks wartime happens only in the daylight, opens himself up to an attack at midnight.
Paul’s words remind us that ridding ourselves of the secular/sacred distinction is not just a good way to help us get out of bed in the morning and go about our tasks with a little extra enthusiasm; its also necessary for survival. There are no peacetime occupations. So, let us grab our pitchforks, stethoscopes, calculators or whatever weapon the Lord has called us to wield, and go to war for the glory of Christ and the advancement of his good name.
Best commercial in the history of commercials:
In True Spirituality Francis Schaeffer warned against the tendency within us to always be interpreting the world with ourselves as the center of all things:
“The basic psychological problem is trying to be what we are not, and trying to carry what we cannot carry. Most of all, the basic problem is not being willing to be the creatures we are before the Creator. Let us imagine that you meet Atlas and he is carrying the world on his shoulder. In classical mythology he has no problem in carrying the world on his shoulder, because he is Atlas! You meet him walking somewhere on the shores of North Africa, where the Atlas mountains are. He sees you coming and says, “Here, you carry the world for a while.” And you are squashed. You are squashed because you cannot carry what you have been handed. The psychological parallel is that man is trying to be the center of the universe and refuses to be the creature he is. He is trying to carry the world on his shoulder and is crushed by the simple factor that it is too much for him to bear. There is nothing complicated about it; he is squashed in trying to bear what no one exept God himself can bear because only God is infinite.”
I’m reminded of three basic applications of Schaeffer’s illustration as it pertains to being a spouse and a parent:
1. If I place myself at the center of the universe, my family will be crushed. Marriages suffer because one or both spouses enters the relationship assuming that the design of the relationship is to serve their own personal desires. They begin to see their spouses not as objects of self-sacrifical love, but as life-long servants designed to bring them total fulfillment upon request. Fathers and mothers frustrate themselves as they raise their children because their children will not bend perfectly to their will. Love of children becomes just another way to love oneself, trying to mold sons and daughters into little idealized versions of yourself. Self-worship will crush your spouse, and it will crush your children.
2. If I place my spouse or my children at the center of the universe, my family will be crushed. My spouse was not created to be the center of the universe. If I approach my marriage as the chief source of satisfaction for all of my deepest longings, I will frustrate my spouse who will despair over not being able to fulfill them. Children were also not created to be exalted to the center of the universe. If I place my children at the center of the universe, they’ll be squashed under the weight of trying to be gods and will become exasperated by the task I convinced them was theirs. It is the most unloving of deeds by a husband or a father to remove himself from the center of the world, only to place his wife or children there. Instead of being squashed himself, he leaves them holding the thing that will ultimately smash them. They were not created to carry the world on their shoulders.
3. The solution is to allow Christ his proper seat in the center of the universe. Christ is more than capable of carrying the world on his shoulders (Col 1). In fact, someday he’ll smash Atlas or anyone who boasts of such an ability (Rom 16:20). If we approach our spouses or our children with Christ properly centralized, our expectations of them become attainable expectations. We are able to enjoy them as they were designed. There is much joy both in marriage and parenting, but not enough to justify, satisfy or sustain the human existence. That is a burden only Christ can bear. Christ-centered families free themselves from the futile quest of perpetually turning upon themselves, only to suck the life out of their very own existence.
Self-absorption, self-involvement, self-centeredness, self-congratulation–indeed–self worship will destroy your home. The idea of a Christ-centered family is not just a nice little thought that sounds good in sermons or looks good on the printed page; it’s crucial. All of the other competing claims to centrality will leave your family feasting upon itself and ultimately destroying itself. Christ-centered families draw on an eternal source of life, a source of life that will not buckle under the burden of bearing the weighty responsibility of being the explanation and reason for the existence of all things, even your family.
In a scene from Tolkein’s The Hobbit, Gandalf, the dwarves and Bilbo find themselves stranded at the top of some pine trees that they elected to climb in order to escape from the Goblins and the Wargs who were in pursuit of them. The Goblins set fire to the trees and waited for their prey down below.
Normally, there is no way out of that situation. At the top of a burning tree, staring down at creatures who desire to eat you is a scenario that always leads to doom. However, in a completely unexpected turn of events giant eagles swoop in and save them. Tolkein’s books–as he was overcome with the Gospel in his own life–are littered with scenes of unexpected rescue.
Christmas, if it is anything, is a celebration of the idea of unexpected rescue, not by eagles, but by a long awaited king that many had begun to think would never come. But yet he does come. He comes like Joseph who in the midst of the evil done to him rises to power to save Israel from famine. He comes like Moses who unexpectedly rises to a position of authority in Egypt and rescues his people from slavery. He comes like David to the armies of Israel as they cowered in fear in the presence of Goliath and the army of the Philistines.
There are lots of Christmas narratives that play out each year, but the Christmas narrative that drives the story is the one of an unexpected rescue from an unexpected king. Christmas is a celebration of the rescue of the soul that cries out from the top of burning pine trees and creatures with fangs waiting down at the bottom, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24). And because of Christmas we answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:25).
In the Christmas event, the Lord himself swoops down and provides an unexpected rescue at an unexpected time for an unexpected people. It is the celebration of God becoming man and rescuing his people from their rebellion against himself. What can be more unexpected than that? Nothing. That’s the story that grips our hearts as we anticipate this Christmas.