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:)
My blog friend Tricia has been such a source of encouragement to me and she has a great blog called The Domestic Fringe.Com. She’s sharing her homemade vanilla today at lifeingracegirls!
Oh I love those quotes on prayer. I have very much found that my success in prayer is birthed out of failure. So true. Thank you for posting these words on prayer, very comforting.
That is the devotional I needed this morning. I’ve spent my life being so inconsistent in my personal devotional life and in prayer. The Lord has been teaching me lately that it’s not about what I do but about what He does (hallelujah!) so to add this tidbit about even prayer being His grace -wow! I’d never thought of it that way! How freeing 🙂 Thanks, Edie!
It is nothing short of amazing of how I needed this post and how much it felt like like it was ME writing it! I have ALWAYS been a prayer “failure” and couldn’t understand why. It made me feel awful for years. I would try to press on, but would stumble and fall. I couldn’t understand why no one else had this problem. Why wasn’t I “good”. Oh and the guilt I would have and put myself through. However, in times of need, panic and pain I HAD those words. I could pray like the best of them. Yet when life became “normal” again it went away… I just couldn’t understand.
Thank you Edie, for always sharing with us. This was just what I needed. And now I want this book! I have learned so much about myself. And that I’m not alone. You are a blessing!
Such a beautiful post! I’m so glad you shared this. I don’t find praying difficult at all, thankfully. However, I’ve never looked at it quite like this. It’s so comforting to remember that Jesus is praying for us.
This brings tears to my eyes, being in the middle of a bit of tough road, and trying to give up my worries in prayer. I, too, am not very good at prayer, and it really helps to know Jesus is helping.
But I also try not to be too hard on myself about being ‘bad’ at prayer…as I’m trying to learn the same things Kimberly mentioned about it not being about what I do. Being a great pray-er is one of the spiritual gifts. Not that it’s unimportant, but I shouldn’t feel badly about being weaker in something that isn’t the gift the Lord decided for me.
Edie, I am a little behind in the reading too. But I have to say, all that I have read in this book has been fascinating to me. I am SO glad you recommended it and believe that EACH part of this book I have read so far can be summed up by the sentence you wrote saying that it is “so revolutionary. It’s not self-help. It’s Jesus;”. I love that the author repeatedly and gently causes the reader to take the focus off of ourselves and places the focus on Christ. It has been fantastic. I appreciate the book so much, I don’t want to rush through. Again, thank you for recommending it!
Lisa Bickerstaff says
I am behind in the reading too. What I have read is incredible and honest. He articulates real struggles that people seeking God in their lives face….and it is so refreshing. This book is filling me up!!
Edie-I am behind on my reading but looking forward to this chapter. I have always felt like a failure when it came to prayer. I have always felt inadequate when it came to prayer.
twenty years I’ve been walking with the Lord and twenty years I’ve struggled with a life of deep prayer.
like you, I never meet a stranger and can talk to brick walls until the cows come home!!! I have experienced seasons where prayer comes easier than others, but those seasons are always followed by seasons of drought that leave me feeling like a failure.
I needed these words this morning….needed to be reminded that it is HIS WORK….HIS GIFT to us….not our work or our gift to him.
This was a beautiful and comforting post. I love what Dr. Kleinig had to say about prayer. Very affirming. I almost bought this book earlier (at your recommendation) but held off. Maybe I need to rethink that!
Have a great weekend!
I found your blog after your fire, have been an avid follower ever since but have never commented.
I am not reading the book but I did want to share what I am learning about prayer. The Bible is God’s word to us, not only infallible but true. His word is His communication to us, but prayer is our communication of His word back to Him! And there are reasons for that. When we enter his gates with thanksgiving, we are reminding ourselves of His many gifts so freely given and His provision for our needs. When we enter His courts with praise, we are reminding ourselves of who He is, worthy of our adoration. Praying His word back to Him helps keep our requests in accordance with His will. Praying His word back to Him also reminds us of the truth of it and the promises found in it. This is very encouraging to us! Our prayers are not so much to make our requests known as to remind us of who He is, what He has done, and what we can expect Him to do. After all, it is His word! Try it, it is amazing.
Robyn Q says
Wow this is fantastic writing! What a great time to reflect on this as we round the corner to Holy Week. Prayer is a gift to us and I forget that sometimes. Words to God have always come easily for me but the prayer that listens has been a journey. Now, it comes so much easier…closer to the breathing & eating kind of easy. That is a gift. Today, I will remember this.
PS. I started the Great Divorce this week. LOVE love LOVE it!!!
I adore this chapter. It spoke to my heart so many times. I love how he connected prayer to the Lord’s Prayer–so simple, but really, the only prayer we need. “We learn to pray regularly, by ourselves or in our families, by beginning and ending each day with the Lord’s Prayer. That’s our family prayer. Nothing could be simpler than that…Jesus gave it to us so we would not feel the need to carry on like pagan people. Pagans imagine that they have to compose their own lengthy, ardent prayers to inform their gods of their needs and to persuade them to respond favorably…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.” YES. YES YES YES YES. How wonderful, when we don’t have anything else to say, when we can’t find the words, that the Lord’s Prayer is enough.
I also loved at the end, when he talked about “flash prayers.” “Whenever I remember I not only say a silent ‘thank you’ for something good or ‘help me’ when I face some difficulty, but I also silently mention the name of Jesus for the people that I meet and imagine Him there with them.” This affirmed the way I pray daily. When we pass an ambulance with lights on, I pray, “Jesus, be with them.” When I put little ones to nap at work, I pray tell them, “Jesus loves you.” Simply thinking about someone who I’m having difficulty with, and then thinking, “Jesus,” is a simple prayer for them.
Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated, I don’t have to spend an hour on my knees every day. In my small actions, I pray all day long.