Greatness and Prayer
Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28)
There's a common theme among all truly great Christians over the past two millennia. Whenever you learn about any of the truly exceptional people who have spearheaded Christendom, one theme about their personal life will always stand out. That theme is the theme of a regular, devoted prayer time with God. Whether it be Billy Graham, Martin Luthor, Athanasius, the apostle Paul, or any of the 12 disciples, they were men who devoted their lives to prayer and had intentionally cultivated a personal intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ. It was this personal intimacy that drove them on, empowered them, sustained them in hard times, and became fundamental to whatever ministry they had.
It's one thing to know this, another entirely to apply it to your life. I've heard lots of stories of valiant warriors of the faith spending hours in prayer. I've personally met people who spend hours like this every day with God and I can tell the difference it makes in their lives. There's something tangibly different about people who spend that much time in the Lord's presence. They're changed. Peace seems to radiate off of them. I want to be like them. Yet whenever I try to apply the same thing to my life I get frustrated. I usually go in with great intentions, but after a while my enthusiasm wanes and I slide back into my regular patterns. I then go about my life with a vague sense of guilt, knowing that I'm not measuring up to the standards that I want to.
That kind of guilt isn't from God and has nothing to do with Christianity. In fact, this whole way of thinking is flat out wrong. I realise how ironic it is for me to say this after just admitting that this is how I think. Christianity is and always has been about the relationship with Jesus Christ; that acceptance of Him as your Lord and Saviour and a life lived in intimacy with God, which is what God intended when He created humanity in the first place. Yet I still seem to want to get by with formal religion. I seem to naturally lean to a system of rules and ritual that keeps God at a distance and never actually provides any life. So I keep trying to find greatness in what I'm doing (ie. Attempting to pray like the great people I want to emulate) rather than pursue God in relationship and just spend some time talking with Him.
When I approach prayer through relationship, it's actually pretty easy for the time to fly. The time flows from worship to talking about what I'm anxious about to contemplation to thankfulness and on and on it goes. When I approach it as a religious duty I usually talk through my laundry list of requests and then have nothing else to share or say. No wonder people in the world are confused by what we get out of prayer when we treat it that way. They, at least, are being a little more honest with themselves when they see that it's a waste of time that doesn't seem to accomplish anything. However, prayer done out of relationship is the opposite. It's energizing, emotionally satisfying, practical, and operating exactly how we have been designed to operate.
Again, intellectually I know all of this, but I still struggle to practice it. For some reason I worry that I'll never have enough time to do all of the thousand and one other things that need doing and so consciously avoid prayer. Either that or I'll try and slap it into a spare 15 minutes to assuage my guilt and tick it off of my list of things to do for the day. It's a good thing that God is gracious with me and that He constantly pursues me with love… I need it. I need to change how I think about prayer day in and day out so that my default way of thinking is through relationship with Him.
I guess I'm still a long way away from greatness. But I know that the path is through focusing on what's most important… exercising relationship with the God who saved me.