This is week 5 of a Lenten book study of Grace upon Grace by Dr. John Kleinig. For reasons not all that clear to me, I’m a week behind. I don’t know if it’s the fact that we’ve had so many perfect spring days that I can’t bring myself to do anything but enjoy it all or because I’m so far behind in everything in my life, I’ve given up on catching up. Oh well. Life is a beautiful mess! So really, this is week 4 and I haven’t even finished week 3′s post. You might enjoy catching upon by reading week 1 on Receptive Spirituality, week 2 on The Mystery of Christ and week 3 on The Mystery of Meditation.
This chapter on prayer is unlike anything I’ve ever read before on the subject. John Kleinig is a brilliant Lutheran pastor and seminary professor in Australia who has written and spoken extensively on the subject of prayer and here’s how he begins the chapter:
“More than anything else, I would like to be good at praying. That’s what I’ve been called to do as a disciple of Christ; that ‘s my basic task as a member of God’s holy priesthood. I truly believe that much more is accomplished by prayer than by anything else I do. Yet I must admit that I have been anything but a man of prayer. A sense of spiritual frustration, coupled with the longing for spiritual fulfillment, is common among devout Christians all over the world. Our disappointment is precipitated by the difficulties we experience in prayer and in our personal devotional life. Here we experience the biggest gap between the way things should be and the way they actually are. “
This opening statement hit me right between the eyes. I have been a complete failure at prayer. I don’t pray enough. I don’t know how to pray. It has never felt natural to me. It has never come easy and has always felt forced. I have made extensive prayer journals and have often pressed on in prayer despite my fumblings but I’ve always been sure that everybody else must be good at praying except me. In my daily life, I never meet a stranger and can talk til the cows come home on almost any subject but when I start to pray, I’m tongue-tied, hamstrung. The only thing I’ve had even a moderate amount of ‘success’ at in praying is praying before meals and with my girls in the morning and evening as we say the Lord’s prayer together. But the more systems I set up to turn me into a prayer warrior, the more failure I see. Turns out, Dr. Kleinig would diagnose my utter failure in prayer as precisely the way it was meant to be. Imagine the comfort when I read these words,
“Prayer should come as easily and naturally to us as breathing or eating. Yet, we all know how hard it is to pray. Prayer, mostly, seems to go against the grain. Unless we are quite desperate and have reached the end of our rope, we would rather not ask God for help. We know that we should pray. We would like to pray more regularly, ardently, and spontaneously. The harder we try, the more we seem to fail. But that’s how it’s meant to be. Christ lets us fail when we pray by ourselves so that we rely on His intercession for us. Oddly, our success in prayer comes from our personal failure and our willingness to carry on as He works for us and with us. Unlike us, Jesus is an expert at prayer…..He is its best practitioner…..He takes over for us when we fail, and intercedes FOR us. He fulfills God’s call to us to be praying people and get us to join Him in His praying.
Jesus does not leave us by ourselves in prayer. He helps us at every step. Long before we ever began to pray, He was praying for us and for our salvation. Whether we pray or don’t pray, whether we are awake or asleep, He prays for us….and he prays with us so that we can join Him in His praying. Jesus teaches us how to pray by giving us the Lord’s prayer. This is His prayer, the prayer that He prays. By giving us His prayer, He includes us in His relationship with His Father and allows us to act as if we were Him, dressed up in Him. He therefore identifies Himself with us and our needs, necessities, sins and temptations. He joins Himself to us so that we can join Him in prayer and borrow everything from Him. He swaps places with us so that we can be where He is before God the Father.
We need not be anxious about whether God is pleased with us or whether He will give us a favorable hearing. We need not worry about what to pray for, or how, because Jesus covers us with His righteousness and perfects our prayers. Our performance does not matter; what matters is Jesus and our faith in Him as our intercessor.
The Lord’s prayer makes praying simple and easy for us because, as we use it, we pray together with Jesus. It is much more important that we pray it regularly than that we wait until we have enough time to pray at length and in great detail with deep ardor and heartfelt devotion. Satan,quite commonly, uses our spiritual enthusiasm against us. He gets us to go on a prayer binge because he knows we will not be able to sustain it. Then, when we fail, he uses our failure against to argue that praying is not for us.
And just as has been my experience, Dr. Kleinig talks about how we learn to pray through suffering. It wasn’t hard for me to pray in the days and weeks following the fire. It was all I could do—cry out to God in helplessness. We learn to pray ‘in the belly of the whale’ so to speak. He emphasizes that prayer is not our work but God’s work in us. Prayer is a gift from God TO us, not an obligation He expects from us. He wants to give us Himself, His peace, His gifts, His life. We pray to receive from God what He alone can give us.
This chapter is so revolutionary. It’s not self-help. It’s Jesus; His life, His forgiveness, His obedience, HIS prayers——for YOU!
And the portion of this chapter devoted to praying for others is full of such wonderful wisdom.
So, now it’s your turn. Wasn’t there so much comfort to be found in how Christ prays for us?
Share your thoughts:)