CAN OLD DOGS LEARN NEW PRAYER ‘TRICKS’?

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Of course! Anything is possible with God.

As an older dog, from the days of my teen encounter with Christ, I had an immediate appetite for the trinity of ‘prayer, revival and missions’ (Andrew Murray). The first books I bought were Teach Yourself Preaching (which never worked) and The Man Who Believed God, the story of Hudson Taylor (which had a life-long impact). My experience of corporate prayer received a huge boost as the result of the visit to our city in the late 1980’s of an American missionary, David Bliss, who had been devouring the books of Andrew Murray and promoting David Bryant’s Concerts of Prayer based on Jonathan Edwards’ experience during the revival of the 1700’s in America. That corporate prayer awakening touched a core group in our city and led to missionaries being sent from our midst to the four corners of the earth. It also impacted my last congregation, leading to awakening and outreach locally, and to the Middle East, Europe, China and Peru. C.T Studd was right, ‘The light that shines farthest shines brightest at home.’ For years now, on my study wall there hangs the reminder of C.H Spurgeon, ‘Prayer itself is an art only the Holy Spirit can teach us. Pray for prayer. Pray until you can really pray.’

[I believe with Andrew Murray, that while we may not see many signs of true revival around us, we can, in and through Jesus, experience daily, personal revival. I also believe that ‘revival’ is being seen and experienced in new ways beyond the First World and outside of traditional church structures, e.g. in Chinese and Cuban house churches and Argentinian prisons]

‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old!’  (Jesus)

I humbly mention some new prayer ‘tricks’ God is patiently teaching me these days:

First, I have been helped by the re-reading of Ole Hallesby’s classic, simply entitled Prayer. I bought it as a young seminarian, started it, then put it down because it didn’t make much sense to me:  definitely not the author’s fault! I picked it up once or twice over the years, then some months ago, it really ‘kicked in.’ In chap. 1 Hallesby establishes as the basis of prayer the well-known but much misinterpreted and abused Rev. 3:20, where the exalted Christ addresses the living ecclesia in ancient Laodicea (Asia Minor), ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.’ [Would it be an exaggeration to say that Jesus stands shut out from many a contemporary congregation around the world, seeking admission? Perhaps even most?]

“To pray (my emphasis) is to let Jesus come into our hearts… Our prayers are always a result of Jesus’ knocking at our hearts’ door… The air which our body needs envelops us on every hand. The air which our souls need also envelops us at all times and on all sides. God is round about us in Christ on every hand, with His many-sided and all-sufficient grace. All we need do is open our hearts. Prayer is the breath of the soul, the organ by which we receive Christ into our parched and withered hearts… He calls it to ‘sup’ with us… He designed prayer in such a way that the most impotent can make use of it… it requires no strength; it is only a question of our wills. Will we give Jesus access to our needs?”

Second, a little while back a good friend blessed me with Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. It has hugely impacted many facets of my walk with God, as it has done in the lives of thousands around the globe. Concerning prayer, I have re-discovered the nearness of God. Especially when praying for revival and the nations, I tended to lapse into a spatial understanding of God’s presence, e.g. Isaiah’s prayer in ch. 64 asking God to ‘rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before him,’ when all the time God has come down in Immanuel, never to be away from us again! [we can be grateful for the recent re-emphasis on the indwelling Christ in the believer and his Church:  T. Austin Sparks, et al]. ‘Nearer is he than breathing, closer than hands and feet’ (Tennyson).

As Willard reminds us, we in fact ‘live in God’s house,’ i.e. the universe – which is not ’empty space’ but filled with his pervasive presence. Furthermore, ‘heaven’ is not some distant place beyond space:  heaven and God are always near us! [we catch ourselves praying loudly so that God may hear in his heaven above, lol]. In the incarnation he focused his reality in a special way in the body of Jesus, this so that we might be ‘enlightened by the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6).

Practically speaking, I now love to sit at our lounge window, or out in the garden, consciously becoming aware of God’s nearness and indwelling. It is a consciousness, sometimes requiring words, but often just the quiet awareness of his ‘steadfast love that endures forever.’ The skin between the world I find myself in and heaven is tissue-paper-thin. I now love to kuier with God. Kuier is an Afrikaans word, very difficult to explain. It can be one-on-one, with little or nothing said. It can take place in a family-and- friends setting, perhaps around a braai (SA barbecue). It’s interesting:  when our son was invited to church-plant in Southern California, he soon learned that ‘to get a coffee’ is to grab a cup on your way out of the house – he was expecting to sit down in the lounge and enjoy a relaxed cup before leaving the house! In SA, we love to ‘kuier’ over coffee. So also we can kuier with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in quiet or audible prayer. There have been moments of ‘inexpressible and glorious joy!’ (1 Pet. 1:8)

Somebody else whose life and ministry was turned upside down (right side up) just 10 years ago by Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy is Brian Zahnd, American pentecostal/charismatic preacher who just yearned for something more. Read his story in his refreshing From Water to Wine. His understanding of prayer was revolutionised. Among other things he recommends praying the Lord’s Prayer morning, noon and night;  regularly praying the psalms (as Jesus did);  and so on. ‘The primary purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what we think God ought to do, but to be properly formed…  Prayer is not so much getting God to do something; prayer is more about learning how to be open and present to what God is doing.’

We try to apply some of these realities in our house church gatherings. Sometimes we will pray the Lord’s Prayer together, as well as other more formal prayers. On the other hand our prayers are also often spontaneous and, we trust, Spirit-directed.

Here’s a prayer we prayed recently, giving time for each phrase to sink in:

‘Gracious and holy Father, please give me:  intellect to understand you; reason to discern you; diligence to seek you; wisdom to find you; a spirit to know you; a heart to meditate on you; ears to hear you; eyes to see you; a tongue to proclaim you; a way of life pleasing to you; patience to wait for you; and perseverance to look for you. Grant me:  a perfect end, your holy presence, a blessed resurrection, and life everlasting.’  [Benedict, godly Italian monk, 480-547 AD]

Lord, teach us to pray – old dogs and young dogs!

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