Learn to Pray by Praying

Man wearing PRAY cap

I love to hear my friends pray. Hearing them pour out their hearts to God encourages me.

When Prayer Time Is Silent

Conversely, one of the biggest deflators I face as a small group leader is deafening sound of silence. Sometimes it’s like this: I pray. Others are invited to pray. But if the people all prayed, I heard not what they said.

Admittedly, sometimes it might be that I sucked all the air out of the room. I’m working to change that.

But sometimes the silence might have to do with comparing our prayers with others.

Admittedly, my prayers can be profuse, sprawling and verbose. I’m like that in most of my close relationships. I’m seldom terse—with my human friends and my God-man friend. One praise reminds me of a second, a third request of a fourth and it’s off to the races. I’m a mouse with a muffin, if I don’t rein me in.

But I love when my concise friends pray. I love when my casual friends pray and I love when my formal friends pray.

In short, I do love to hear the saints pray. And some of them are models.

Choose Models—But Choose Them Well

Theologian D.A. Carson says there is not one best way to pray. But prayer models can help us pray. In different, good ways.

Most of us can improve our praying by carefully, thoughtfully listening to others pray. This does not mean copying everything we hear. . . Not every good model provides us with exactly the same prescription for good praying, exactly the same balance. All of them pray with great seriousness; all of them use arguments and seek goals that are already portrayed in Scripture. Some of the seem to carry you with them into the very throne room of the Almighty; others are particularly faithful in intercession, despite the most difficult circumstances in life and ministry; still others are noteworthy because of the breadth of their vision. All are characterized by a wonderful mixture of contrition and boldness in prayer.

D.A. Carson, 8 Lessons from the School of Prayer

I am learning to pray. First from Bible pray-ers, then from my friends. Cathe ends prayers with Psalm 19:14, and Jen prays with touching spontaneity; Hannah with God’s character first, and Donna ever with gentle persistence. My friend Sarah prays in earnest for the lost.

But this post is not about how to pray. It’s just a simple call to pray—as only you can.

[Prayer] is the active exercise of a personal relationship, a kind of friendship, with the living God and his Son Jesus Christ

–J.I. Packer

No Recipe, Just Pray

Prayer is an active exercise of a personal relationship. Our friendships are dynamic. They change and grow. How I relate to my friend Jen isn’t the exact way my friend Lisa relates to Jen. There is uniqueness, and that is as God means it.

I start with the truism that each Christian’s prayer life, like every good marriage, has in it common factors about which one can generalize and also uniquenesses which not other Christian’s pray life will quite match. You are you, and I am I, and we must each find our own way with God, and there is no recipe for prayer that can work for us like a handyman’s do-it-yourself manual or cookery book, where the claim is that if you follow the instruction you can’t go wrong.

Praying is not like carpentry or cookery. It is the active exercise of a personal relationship, a kind of friendship, with the living God and his Son Jesus Christ, and the way it goes is more under divine control that under ours. Books on praying, like marriage manuals, are not to be treated with slavish superstition, as if perfection of technique is the answer to all difficulties; their purpose, rather, is to suggest things to try.

But as in other close relationships, so in prayer: you have to find out by trial and error what is right for you, and you learn to pray by praying. Some of us talk more, others less; some some are constantly vocal, others cultivate silence before God as their way of adoration. . . Yet we may all be praying as God means us to do. The only rules are, stay within biblical guidelines and within those guidelines, as John Chapman puts it, “pray as you can and don’t try to pray as you can’t.”

J.I. Packer, In My Path of Prayer, ed. David Hanes, p. 57

In a word: pray.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2

Power Outage, Power Source

Power source melting candle on table, dripping wax looks like man

When’s the power coming back on, Mom? the 13 year-old called from somewhere down the pitch black hall.

By 8 o’clock, I hope. For Roboman from the electric company had assured me of that time when I called at 4:45.

Well, Roboman was wrong. He was off by almost a day. We did homework by candlelight, ate sandwiches by candlelight, played euchre by candlelight and by the time we brushed our teeth by flashlight, all the candles had burned out. In the morning my husband rigged up a generator to power the fridge. By noon—guess what?— the gas had run out too.

It all got me thinking as I ran along. Admittedly, I may have been thinking more since—for the first time in months— I ran without my (stone-cold dead) phone. And as I did, I grew downright glad. I was the gladdest jogger around because I have a power source that will never go out. It will never burn up, fizzle out, or run dry.

Do you tap the same source?

Our Power Source

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises… 2 Peter 1:3-4a

Candles burning in dark power outage

Our power source is a divine. Do you see that in verse 3?

Divine power is available to us through knowledge. Namely, it comes through knowing Jesus Christ, who even as I type, is upholding the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

Have you ever stopped to think about this?

Every day God lights up the Milky Way with yottawatts of power and he never has an energy crisis. And the amazing thing is that His divine power- this power- is available to you. If you are a Christian you have power to progress. This power is available to you! Before you were a Christian you lived you lived your life in the condition of a power cut. You were powerless to please God. But now you have power to progress.

Colin Adams, The Pilgrim’s Progress

All this power is on tap for us who know Christ. And He never has an energy crisis.

No Charge, But You Must Plug In

Here’s more glad news: we don’t pay for this rich source. It is given to us. Gratis, granted. That means it’s a gift.

Knowing God and trusting his precious promises is, if you will, the electrical wire that empowers our life and growth in godliness. In case you wondered, the growth doesn’t come to us when we work like a hamster in a wheel, Kevin DeYoung explains. But neither does our growth in godliness come while we stand still as if riding up an escalator.

No, we cooperate with him. We work out because God is at work in us (Philippians 2:12-13). A vacuum won’t work unless you plug it in. A car won’t run unless you turn the key. We access, if you will, divine power through the twin outlet of our knowledge of him and our trust in his promises.

Promises like it is more blessed to give than receive, and like we will reap a harvest if we don’t stop doing good. Promises like these empower me to give and do good when I’d rather give up and receive.

So God gives the power, but we turn the switch. The car and vacuum are a gift and the outlet and gasoline are too. But to make progress in godliness, we get in the car and push the gas pedal. We make every effort to supplement our faith (2 Peter 1:5). And here’s another empowering precious promise: our effort in this struggle is productive and good.

But that’s not the point of this post. This post is simply to remind you, as I reminded myself in the dark, that we have a power source that will never go out. Oh yes, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is power. First Peter 1:3 says that his divine power comes to us through our knowledge of Jesus. We know the gospel, that we are more sinful than we realize and God loves us more than we realize. Both. That while we were still in our sins, Christ died for us. If we know Jesus Christ we won’t be powerless. Growth is possible. Hope is possible. Change is possible.

But we won’t have this power without knowing him. So we press on to know him. In His power, we press on.

That’s why my three non-negotiables for health in any fraught—or not—days stay the same. Especially #3: Go hard after God. I mean seek His face. I mean listen to him speak in his Word. Put down your phone, turn off the news, and press on to know Him.

I have too many impoverished friends. Friends, we will never—never— experience divine power if we don’t know Jesus Christ. Oh you might be a “strong person” and carry on with lots of props. But when the cords are pulled— when your health fails, your nation fractures, and your family is all a shambles —what then?

What is your power source? From whence then comes your help?

God Wants To Be Known

Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He is our keeper (Psalm 121). God’s power never goes out.

Advent Candles burnt to nothing

But we unplug from the power of God when we leave our Bibles on the shelf. Going about life without striving to know God is like unplugging from the power source then complaining that we feel anxious and alone in the dark. Complaining about God being silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.

Tim Challies puts a bow on it: Apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit, in the Bible, God does not promise that He will speak in any other way

In other words, we can all believe that God will speak to us through the Bible. And all this JoyPrO stuff is about how God does speak and how when we listen we gain divine power when we seek.  

That’s the one thing. It’s the one habit I hope I never shed. Till kingdom come, I want to keep knowing Him and his power. Because all other powers, even the sun itself, will grow dark.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? Then Peter answers his own question: You ought to live holy and godly lives.

Don’t Make Excuses

So we’d best not make excuses. First Peter 1:3 doesn’t allow it. We cannot say, “If only I had more time or more money or a better church or better family I could be more godly and have a stronger spiritual life.” There is no good excuse.

Because God promises that you have ALL YOU NEED for life and godliness. Which means if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.

But we can’t expect God to give us what he did not promise us. He did not promise us the power to cure disease, or create world peace or even to change a child’s heart. But take his promises to the bank. If he tells us, Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you, believe it. Seek first his kingdom.

And keep seeking. His Kingdom and Himself. Don’t settle. Because Christ wants us to grow- in spiritual life and godliness.

Don’t Make The Fatal Mistake

Because God’s powerstore is always available through our knowledge of Him and of his precious promises, we can’t slack. I’ll leave you with C.S. Lewis.

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.

But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 201-202.

The Father intended us to be remade in true righteousness and holiness, to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

And to that noble end, He freely gives us all the power we need.

 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being

Ephesians 3:16

When Your Taste Is Gone: 5 Takeaways From Tasteless Days

Woman looking at cup no taste

Don’t know what you got till it’s gone. Taste didn’t come back easy. It took so long. 

Two weeks with a bad cold was long enough to remind me again of God’s fine sense of timing. My congested head had been dulling my sense of smell. But it was the exact day the 40 day sugar fast ended that my taste went away.

Poof. Gone. Taste no more.  Cravings for chocolate and ice cream suddenly melted away.

I was my own science experiment last week.

No taste was new to me. So new, and strange, I felt I needed to prove it was really gone. 

An onion may as well have been an apple or potato. I couldn’t taste- or smell- a thing. Fresh brewed, French roast coffee could have been weak breakfast tea. Nothing. Deep, clean minty fresh could have been baking soda Crest. Nada. But on a positive note, sweaty boys, bathroom smells, stinky feet also left no trace. 

Besides increased gratitude for a range of flavors and greater compassion for those with colds, my tasteless days got me thinking about spiritual tastebuds.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!  We know that verse. Some of us sing that verse. We love Psalm 34:18.  We might even fast to rouse our spiritual tastebuds.

But if we’re honest, sometimes the Lord and his Word do not taste good. We consume countless other things that dull our hunger for God.  Snacks, screens, and Facebook feeds can all take the edge off our hunger for the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

But that’s not the point. 

Many of our tastes for nourishing foods- salads not Skittles- are acquired. It might take 15 exposures to accept the new food. Like the time goes into a prepping a good meal, getting spiritual nutrition takes work too. We’ve got to grind the wheat, and cultivate our spiritual tastes.  

But that’s not the point either. 

5 Takeaways From Tasteless Days

1. Dangerous

I drank sour half-and-half last week. But my tongue didn’t tell me. My husband did, after I put it in his. Our senses warn of dangers like fire, poisonous fumes, or rotten food. Spiritual tastebuds alert us to soul dangers. We need God’s Word warns us about sin’s dangers (Psalm 19:11). A Puritan named Thomas Brooks wrote, “O God, put my tongue out of taste for the bait of the devil.” 

Oh that my tongue was as “put out of taste” for my own harshness and impatience with my sons as as my it was chocolate and ice cream last week. 

2. A Sign of Sickness

Families taste Raclette cheese around table
A liesurely Raclette dinner with family. The love was strong, the flavor was not.

Losing our sense of taste is a sign that we’re sick. If nachos were bland and even my brother-in-law’s storied  Raclette cheese tasted tame, it’s no fault of theirs. If God’s word tastes bland and seeking him seems dull, our souls are sick or injured. It might just be a little head cold like I had last week, or more serious, like the head injury that stole tastebuds from my friend Bob.

But the same God that gave us tastebuds can heal our sick ones. So feed the cold.

 3. Keep Eating

Jonathan Edwards sad, “We must endeavor to increase spiritual appetites by meditating on spiritual objects.” Appetite comes with eating.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). That’s not just at conversion. It’s true every day of our lives. When you get up in the morning, my guess is… you must get faith again. And you get it from the Bible. That from John Piper. My mind said soup and tea were good when I couldn’t taste them. So I sipped them until I could.

Faith comes from the Word of Christ. So even when we don’t desire God, we keep eating.

4. Gradual Return

Taste is not all or nothing. There were those in-between, lukewarm days when coffee tasted like coffee more than tea or water, but blonde could have been bold. When I could tell an orange from a lemon but not from a grapefruit. Don’t despise the day of small things. Rejoice in little changes. And keep eating. Spiritually too: Eat when you feel like it. Eat when you don’t feel like it. Eat the Word until you feel like it. 

Trust the process. Wait for the Lord to restore your taste, your joy (Psalm 51:12).

5. Restored By God

How are spiritual taste buds restored? Jon Bloom writes, The more you cultivate the habit of looking to and listening to Jesus, the more your spiritual taste buds…will be restored. We are transformed into people with  healthy spiritual tastebuds- who love good and spit out evil-when we behold the glory of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). And  so we pray like Jeremiah prayed, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”

And God may be gracious to you and restore your taste like he did for me last week. Now l give him praise.

That, actually, was the point. 

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became a joy and the delight of my heart for I am called by your name.

Jeremiah 15:16

Dissatisfied and Content: A Place for Discontent

Smiling content woman marathon runner

I’m not content with my discontent. In fact, I’m downright discontent when my soul is not at rest.

Which is, I think, as it ought to be.

Easy To Please

I’ve always been drawn to “low maintenance” types. The friends who take a 30 minutes to fix their hair and another 20 for makeup aren’t *naturally my type. Out of bed and off in 10 is more my style.

Christians ought to be the most easy to please people on the planet. We ought to be the most sit-loose people around, with our joy independent of our circumstances. I ought to be as as happy in my house in the woods as in a sunny mansion on the hilltop, as thankful with a can of Campbell’s tomato as with gourmet lobster bisque.

We ought to be. Because in Christ all things are ours (1 Cor. 3:22).

Paul penned these staggering words to the Philippians from his prison cell: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 

Contentment is not natural. It must be learned. The good news is, it can be learned. It can be or we wouldn’t be called to be content (Heb. 13:5).

I have stilled and quieted my soul, the Psalmist wrote. Contentment is the goal. I agree, I aspire, I press on. Joyfully often. Woefully sometimes. But I want contentment to mark me. I don’t want to be the high maintenance one who needs this food or that praise or those props to put my soul at rest. I want to be easily pleased.

Because God is my portion. And because I want to grow.  But contentment doesn’t have to mean I’m always satisfied. 

Hard To Satisfy

Because self- dissatisfaction promotes spiritual growth. It does for me and I think Paul might agree. Growth starts with realizing that I am not yet what I want to be. Philippians 3:12 is about that, Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Paul was content with his outward circumstances. Yet he wanted to know Christ more.

While we are to be content physically– with our circumstances and possessions (Phil. 2:12, Heb. 13:5), we don’t want to be satisfied spiritually. Because blessed discontent often begins spiritual growth.

It’s when we feel satisfied spiritually, that we can get proud and complacent and that is dangerous. Paul told Timothy (1 Tim. 4:15), Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. In other words, don’t loiter.

Oh, that I might not loiter on my heavenly journey.

Have you heard of David Brainerd? He said that. That quote appears weekly on my iPhone reminders. Because I need it.

David Brainerd  lived his short life this way. He was a missionary to the native and died in 1747 at the age of 29. His drive for more holiness and more usefulness,  while enduring all manner of physical hardship, was a dissatisfied contentment. His love for Christ and the native people drove him.

Brainerd wrote, “When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires of him the more insatiable, and my thirstings after holiness the more unquenchable . . . Oh, for holiness! Oh, for more of God in my soul! And oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God . . .  Oh, that I might not loiter on my heavenly journey.”

John Piper says of Brainer,

He was gripped with by the apostolic admonition: “Redeem the time for the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16) He embodied the counsel: “Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due time we shall reap if we do not faint” (Galatians 6:9). He strove to be, as Paul says, “abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).”

We press on. We thirst for Christ and grow thirstier still. With Paul we forget what is behind and press on for the prize. We fight the good fight.

Learned to be Content

C.H. Spurgeon cautioned, Do not indulge, any of you, the silly notion that you can be contented without learning, or learn without discipline. We grow strong in the Lord and the strength of his might.

How does one learn to be content? Dr. D.A. Carson answers,

You cannot learn contentment merely by living in difficult places. But you cannot learn contentment merely by living in happy places. You learn contentment by living in both places. And by discounting your joy as being dependent on either place.

So the formula for contentment for us as it was for Paul: look through the circumstances to the God who’s using them to shape me for good. Expect if you’re on top of the world today, he may drop you low tomorrow. I know what it is to abound and I know what it is brought low. Trust that he’ll keep us going from high to low to keep us depending on him. So we don’t get smug when all goes as planned or despair when nothing does.

I’ll share this to keep it real: this week, after 5 weeks of a sugar fast, my scale went up. That was not the plan. Weight-loss wasn’t the goal, but neither was gaining weight. So I’m at the end of myself today. In his strength, trusting God with that. My weight going up is my being brought low. It’s my proving ground for contentment. 

When we are truly content, and enduring all in God’s strength, we neither grow proud in success, nor are we crushed by failure. It’s a freeing place to be. 

But there are two places we should not be content.

When We Should Be Discontent

You’ve already heard about the first.

1. Complacency about my own spiritual condition. It’s not: I am what I am what I am, but I am what I am and his grace was not without effect to me. No, I worked harder than the rest (1 Cor. 15:10). One James McIntosh said, It is right to be contented with what we have, never with what we are. Paul was not content to stand still in his faith. He struggled with all Christ’s energy.

2. Apathy over others’ suffering. John Piper calls that “dissatisfied contentment.” He explains, “When Paul writes in Romans 12:15Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, he shows that the contentment of the believer is not a static, Buddha-like serenity unmovable by the hurts of others. When Christian joy perceives grief, it becomes “dissatisfied contentment.” It senses a lack and a need… Thus, Christian joy starts to expand in love to fill that lack.

But we turn these upside down. We get content with the state of our souls and stand off from the hurting people in our circles. At the same time we grow discontent with our circumstances and possessions, which are precisely where we’re told to rest content.

We’re like senseless beasts when we get these reversed. When we ignore those those hurting around us and our spiritual growth as we hunger for better food and a cozier den, we’re reduced. We’re like animals.

But there is another reason why we must get this right.

Content and Dissatisfied

Because, in a word, our contentment adorns our Lord. But so does pressing on to know him, eager to grow.

When my life isn’t marked by staggering success at work or ministry or children excelling at school or on the court and I still smile– well, that shines on a satisfying Savior. A gracious quiet spirit reflects the good Giver who supplies all our needs (Ph. 4:19).

And when we ignore our phones and create sacred space to know Christ more, that makes him look good too. Because, Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition (Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment).

We do have a good Father- the very best. So we both rest content with the things of this world and press on discontent, until we see him face to face.

Burroughs can close. 

My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them. That is not the reason. But the reason is because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God Himself.

For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33