The Prayer-Filled Life
7/26/20 Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
I am so enjoying this summer in the Psalms and spending more time in prayer alone with God and with others at the Wednesday prayer gatherings for our church and the Friday Prayer for Racial Reconciliation gatherings Zoom Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86593017148 . I am also appreciating the Communication 101 workshop with Jim Singleton and learning more about the good news and the privilege we have to share it, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow night’s session on Their Story (July 27th at 7 pm Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87063012183).
I have to admit I have also been challenged this summer personally, as a parent, and as a pastor. All the uncertainties related to COVID-19 are stretching me (and you too, I’m sure) to adapt to changing realities. It’s hard in many ways, but I am more aware of my need to live faithfully the life I have, not the one I used to have, want to have, or will have in the future. I can’t do that with only my human resources. I must trust the Spirit to give patience, perseverance, wisdom, and guidance.
This week while reflecting on this, I also happened to be in the midst of forming Growing Your Soul https://viennapres.org/gys/ groups for the fall. This brought to mind the first book we read: Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Faith by Richard Foster. The premise of the book is that Jesus gave us a complete picture of God, and demonstrated how we can experience vitality and fullness in our life with God (Col. 2:9, Jn. 10:10). Foster masterfully explains how the church throughout history has upheld the core characteristics of Christ’s life through what we now call traditions.
The challenge in the book is to see how these traditions taken together help us envision a balanced spiritual life. They serve as a guide to help us take on the life of Jesus – to become like Jesus ourselves – and as a result to be transformed from the inside out. In the language of our VPC mission statement, we are becoming like Christ together for the world.
As a means of connecting what is going on in our church, nation, and world, I thought I would take time in the next few blogs to share in brief what Foster says in his book about these six great traditions.
I will begin with “The Contemplative Tradition: The Prayer-filled Life.” An examination of the Gospels reveals that from the very beginning, Jesus was clear about his identity, call, and mission in the world. “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:10-11; see also Matthew 3:13-17 and Luke 3:21-22).
In this beautiful passage, Jesus’ true identity is affirmed. The Son Jesus eternally existed with the Father and the Spirit. As he begins his redemptive work, pure divine love is revealed as the essence of the Triune God. The Father affirms with delight the belovedness of the Son even as the Spirit descends like a dove so all can see the second person of the Trinity in his humanness.
In his life and ministry, Jesus revealed the deep communion he experienced with the Father in this intimate, transformative, interactive loving relationship. Prayer is a central part of his life in calling together a community (Luke 6:12), preparing for ministry (Mark 1:35), clarifying and deepening the disciples’ understanding of his identity (Luke 9:18-20), and revealing his glory in the transfiguration (Luke 9:28-29).
Not only did Jesus demonstrate prayer and intimacy, but he invited those who followed him to experience that kind of relationship. Jesus said, “This is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). This knowledge of God is an experiential knowing of God. We grow in this experiential aspect of knowing God through the prayer-filled life.
We have been engaging in 100 days of prayer this summer as a means of cultivating deeper relationships with God. We always need to be rooted in our God’s love for us and our love for God, but this uncertain time brings about a greater awareness of that need.
I hope you have noticed that the daily devotions on the psalms has been organized according to our human experience. Each week we are focusing on psalms for when we are anxious, mad, sad, afraid, or when we need confidence, hope, or to remember God’s blessings. Praying a psalm each day is a way to bring our whole self to God in the midst of whatever experience we find ourselves—the good, the bad, the ugly.
We have also encouraged you to explore a variety of prayer practices in Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. These prayer practices are means of grace that help us to experience God’s presence with us and the reality of his love in the midst of our real life, whatever that may be. Memorizing, meditating on, and praying scripture focuses our minds on the truth of God’s word. Life is difficult and lead to strong emotions like grief, anger, and pain of all kinds. Lament is a means of trusting in God and pouring out our broken hearts before him (Ps. 62). Prayer walking and breath prayer are means of engaging our bodies in prayer which in turns helps us deal with strong emotion.
I often say we live what we believe. That’s why welcoming prayer, the prayer of recollection, and renewing prayer are helpful. We start with our experience—what we feel and how we behave reveal what we believe. These kinds of prayer help us to name where we are but then we turn to God and remember that he is sovereign in control, loves and accepts us unconditionally, and cares for us and gives us what we need.
The prayer-filled life leads us to a deeper experience of God’s presence and love for us, and that love makes us the kind of people who can love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and love others as he has loved us.
In the next month, we will be looking at the ACTS model https://www.ligonier.org/blog/simple-acrostic-prayer/ for prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication . We have seen these prayers interspersed in many of the psalms we have already read. But for the next three weeks we will spend a week on the broad categories of psalms of praise, confession, and thanksgiving. Supplication is not a category of classification for psalms. However most of them include some form of intercession or prayer for themselves, the people of Israel, or the world in general.
At the end of the month, we will look at more contemplative kinds of prayer. As Foster writes, “Put simply, the contemplative life is the steady gaze of the soul upon the God who loves us. It is ‘an intimate sharing between friends.’” Henri Nouwen asserts that to be “safely anchored in the knowledge of God’s first love, we have to be mystics. A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love.”
Contemplative prayer cultivates a heart that is open and receptive to God’s deep and abiding love, but it results in a greater capacity to love others. As John proclaims, “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:19-20).
Jesus lived the reality of this first love in a prayer-filled life spending time alone with the Father, teaching about love, and demonstrating the strength and sacrificial nature of love in his life and ministry. Ultimately, he surrendered to love as he wrestled in prayer in Gethsemane and chose the way of the cross for our salvation. Love was not a teaching point for Jesus. It was the essence of his nature and the quality of his relationship within the Trinity and with humanity. This was witnessed daily by those who followed him.
Jesus’ prayer life is a beautiful model of what loving communion with the Trinity looks like. When we choose to pray, the Spirit cultivates a deeper loving relationship with the Trinity and transforms us. As we become more like Christ, we grow in our ability to love the Lord and love the people. May it be so.