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11. PRAYER: What Does it Mean to be a Mature Christian Disciple? - Luke 11:1-13

What Does it Mean to be a Mature Christian Disciple? 11. PRAYER: (Luke 11:1-13)

By Ted Schroder,
October 1, 2017

The mature Christian disciple seeks to reproduce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, hope and humility. None of these virtues are produced naturally. They require connection to Jesus as the branches to the true vine. It takes a lifetime to overcome our self-centeredness. It takes a life of prayer to experience deep change. The reason we fail to produce the fruit of the Spirit has a lot to do with our prayerlessness. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and so should we. How is your prayer life?

Tim Keller in his book on prayer (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Penguin, 2014) relates the story of Flannery O'Connor, the famous writer from Milledgeville, Georgia. When she was twenty-one years old and studying writing in Iowa, she sought to deepen her prayer life. She began keeping a handwritten prayer journal. In it she describes her struggles to be a great writer: "I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do...I am so discouraged about my work...Mediocrity is a hard word to apply to oneself... yet it is impossible not to throw it at myself... I have nothing to be proud of yet myself. I am stupid, quite as stupid as the people I ridicule."

Keller comments: "These kinds of declarations can be found in the journal of any aspiring artist, but O'Connor did something different with these feelings. She prayed them. Here she followed a very ancient path, as did the psalmists in the Old Testament, who did not merely identify, express, and vent their feelings but also processed them with brutal honesty in God's presence. O'Connor wrote of

Effort at artistry in this rather than thinking of You and feeling inspired with the love I wish I had. Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon.... what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know you God because I am in the way.

"To love our success more than God and our neighbor hardens the heart, making us less able to feel and to sense. ..Therefore, because O'Connor was a writer of extraordinary gifts who could have become haughty and self-absorbed, her only hope was in the constant soul reorientation of prayer." (Keller, p.11)

She reflected on the discipline of writing out her prayers in the journal. She recognized the problem of the form. "I have decided this is not much as a direct medium of prayer. Prayer is not even as premeditated as this -- it is of the moment and this is too slow for the moment." Then there was the danger that what she was writing down wasn't really prayer but ventilation. "I...want this to be...something in praise of God. It is probably more likely to being therapeutical...with the element of self underlying its thoughts."

Yet with the journal she believed, "I have started on a new phase of my spiritual life... the throwing off of certain adolescent habits and habits of mind. It does not take much to make us realize what fools we are, but the little it takes is long in coming. I see my ridiculous self by degrees."

O'Connor learned that prayer is not simply the solitary exploration of your own subjectivity. You are with Another, and he is unique. God is the only person from whom you can hide nothing. Before him you will unavoidably come to see yourself in a new unique life. Prayer, therefore leads to a self-knowledge that is impossible to achieve any other way.

Cutting through everything else in O'Connor's journal was a simple longing to learn truly how to pray. She knew intuitively that prayer was the key to everything else she needed to do and to be in life. She wasn't content with the perfunctory religious observances of her past. "I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always fugitive. The way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love beating me when I think and write this to You. Please do not let the explanations of the psychologists about this make it turn suddenly cold."

At the end of one entry, she simply called out, "Can't anyone teach me how to pray." (Flannery O'Connor, A Prayer Journal)

Jesus gives the disciples a pattern of prayer. We can take each phrase of the Lord's Prayer as an outline of prayer: we call upon God as our heavenly Father and we seek to hallow him with a heart of grateful joy and sense of wonder and beauty. We then ask God to extend his royal power over every part of our lives -- emotions, desires, thoughts and commitments and the life of the world. We accept the will of God for us and trust that God knows what he is doing even when we find it difficult. This first part of prayer is God-centered. We orient ourselves to his will before we come to our own concerns. We pray for our daily needs and for a prosperous and just society. Then we seek forgiveness for ourselves as we forgive others. We pray that we would not entertain temptation which will entice us away from trusting in God by the substitution of false desires. To that end we pray for deliverance from any kind of evil either within us or outside us, everything that threatens our welfare.

What prevents us from enjoying an enriching time of prayer? There are many distractions and excuses we can list. Jesus said we need to be determined like that man who goes to his neighbor at midnight. We will not be discouraged from prayer by the time of day, or how tired we are, or all the things we have to do. We will believe in the value and power of prayer: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." Our heavenly Father wants to give his Holy Spirit to those who ask him. He will give us the fruit of the Spirit if we really want them. But it will require the humility of asking in Jesus' name and not in our own worthiness.

How is your prayer life? Do you have a time which you dedicate to prayer? How meaningful is public prayer in worship to you? The Lord's Prayer was given to us in plural form. We ask God to give us what we need. We are part of a spiritual family when we say "Our Father". Prayer is not strictly a private thing. There is strength in praying with others. We get to know Jesus and deepen our relationship with him in his community. Then we can reproduce the fruit of the Spirit in relationship with one another.

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