Wednesday, September 9, 2015
I think if I had to choose one word to describe me it would be "undisciplined." Of course, I could switch that around and say "spontaneous" or "flexible" -- but those wouldn't really be true. I'm undisciplined.
This did not creep up on me slowly. I was absolutely born this way. And while I've always done well at school -- I enjoyed school. Oh, of course, there were those assignments that were horrible, but I loved school in general, loved my teachers, and it was important to my own self-image to be considered "smart." So there was a lot of motivation to do well in that arena. But when it comes to doing things that I know I should do but don't want to do -- well, results have been spotty. And I'm being too charitable.
Lemme give you a f'rinstance: This past weekend, Labor Day weekend. During the week I get busy with...stuff. There are almost no days when I don't have to leave the house, so getting immersed in a long project is hard. So Saturday I had no plans. Sunday was church, but there was no evening church so after we got home I had the rest of the day. And Monday I had no plans. Three (or two-and-a-half) days to get some projects done.
Not only did I not do them -- I tried to talk Bruce out of doing stuff, too, so I wouldn't feel guilty. So not only am I lazy, I am a carrier.
Maybe that is why I'm drawn to the books I've been reading lately -- Celebration of Discipline, Discipline: The Glad Surrender, Prayer. I know my own weaknesses and sins and am beginning to understand how they have hurt me in both my spiritual and physical life.
I was reading Tim Keller's book again last night and I'm past the sort of "theoretical" stuff about prayer. He takes time to explain different theological positions on prayer: why we need it, what it is, what "conversing with God" entails. And don't get me wrong -- it was very good and thought-provoking. But I want the ten-step program and that's where we're headed.
Martin Luther, in a letter to a friend, actually gave a pretty nuts-and-bolts answer to the question of how to pray. I will not do it justice, but an outline would look something like this.
Prayer is a habit and must be developed through regular discipline. (There's that word again...) Luther believed praying first thing in the morning and last thing at night were good times to habitually pray.
He believed we are commanded to pray, so we must pray even when we don't feel like it -- but that we must do all that we can to engage our hearts, our emotions, and not just our minds.
For this reason he suggests a sort of preparation for prayer -- a form of meditation on Scripture. (More and more I am understanding that meditation is the spiritual discipline that everyone ignores and no one talks about. I am guessing it's because the word "meditation" has all those connotations of Eastern religions, but it's certainly discussed in the Bible.) He proposes a format for this meditation, which I won't go into here -- meditation is surely worth a blog post or ten on its own. But meditation is not study. It is contemplating Scripture and it involves talking to God, being open consciously to illumination. Ready, waiting, expecting that the Holy Spirit will give you insights (not new revelations -- just ways of comprehending God's word in ways you may not previously have considered).
So meditation is the beginning of prayer because there's some talking with God happening while you meditate. In fact, one of Luther's suggested meditations is the Lord's Prayer, so as you meditate on it you'll necessarily pray at the same time. But it is a focused prayer, not extemporaneous. Luther actually suggested praying through the Lord's prayer every time you sit down to formally pray -- but not using Scripture because then it can become "nothing but idle chatter and prattle, read word for word out of a book." He suggests using the format, but in personal ways. For example, "Our Father" demonstrates that we are always to be in communion with other believers. It's not "My Father." (And this is something I had never noticed or really considered regarding the Lord's Prayer.) So we meditate on the community of saints into which we've been placed -- maybe thinking what we can do to be better connected or to be of more service -- whatever. All from "Our Father."
And again he cautions to be alert for the Holy Spirit's enlightening and illuminating us as we meditate or pray. We should not rush Him or obstruct Him.
Keller wrote pages and pages on this, so you can see I have not explained any of it well enough. But without typing the entire chapter I couldn't do it anyway.
But I am learning the importance of this great spiritual discipline -- and I'm not even halfway through the book!