Dr. Keith Kettenring - Guest Writer
When I was 16 years old, an unusual thing happened to me. Well, it seemed unusual at the time. I was sitting on the veranda of our home overlooking the Caribbean Ocean outside Montego Bay, Jamaica. There I met God in a very profound way. There were no lights, no voices, and no mystical images. There was simply a deep realization in my heart that God was real and wanted a relationship with me. I didn’t know what to do with the experience except interpret it as a “call” to ministry. And so, that’s the direction I went.
For the next 40 years I pursued ministry, all the while dealing with this inner longing for a deepening relationship with God. I enjoyed aspects of the ministry but soon discovered that it was often not a friend of God. Ministry slowly and methodically sucked the life out of my relationship with God. I struggled with people’s expectations and the demands of pastoral life. I often thought, “Pull yourself together, Bucko! This just goes with the territory. What you need is to trust God more and work harder.”
But what I really needed was to be still and know God; to commune with Him in such a way that all I did, including ministry, would reflect His life.
My experience is not unique. I talk with dozens of church leaders who often hit a “mid-ministry crisis” where God is calling them to Himself and they don’t quite know what to do with it. In conversations with many Christians I find they have the same kind of struggles.
The key to navigating this struggle and to deepening one’s relationship with God is by communion with God in prayer.
Learning to Pray By Praying
Learning prayer is a meandering path for many Christians. My journey with God in prayer has taken me from a period when I dismissed prayer as unnecessary to the present where prayer has become an integral part of each day. Along the way were long stretches of inconsistent time with God followed by short bursts of focused effort. On my own I tried my best to learn how to pray by reading books on prayer. “I need to pray! So, I’ll read a book about prayer.” Huh?
However, what I needed to do was actually pray. Learning comes in doing. You learn to play the guitar by playing the guitar. You learn to swim by swimming. You learn to cook by cooking. You learn to pray by praying. Jesus knew this.
When asked to “Teach us to pray,” Jesus didn’t point his disciples to a book, website, or seminar. He gave them words to say and a way to say them.
We have much to learn from this brief exchange.
1. Prayer is best learned by repeating a set prayer. Jesus gave his disciples a liturgy of prayer; a form or order to follow with meaningful words which express the essentials for living in relationship with God. Good prayer liturgy is the way you learn to pray. Good prayer liturgy teaches you to know God and yourself in relationship with Him.
Learn to pray by saying this prayer from Jesus in the morning, at meals, and at night.
Our Father in the heavens, hallowed by your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,
Give us today our bread
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.
[Go to: https://www.theuncommonjourney.com/ post for August 23, 2016 for an introduction to a “rule of prayer.”
Author Phyllis Tickle has written many books with set prayers that are easy to follow.]
2. Prayer is best learned from a person who communes with God in prayer. The disciples must have seen Jesus pray on many occasions. Or, at least they saw him go off by himself to pray. They must have known of his ability and commitment to fellowship with the Father in prayer. So, who better to ask?
Fr. Seraphim Aldea, an Orthodox monk of Irish descent, who himself has devoted his life to prayer, teaches us this:
Prayer is something one can learn only directly from someone who already knows prayer. As a child you learn by imitation. You learn by copying someone who prays. First, find that someone who has prayer. Then, you need to learn by joining in his or her life and imitating their gestures of prayer. In time, these outward and empty gestures will be filled with content and you’ll start praying with your own prayer. A teacher, and obedience to that teacher, are indispensable for one who wants to truly pray.
Do you have a person in your life who can teach you to pray out of their own communion with God in prayer? Don’t settle for someone who regurgitates what he or she has read in a book or learned at a seminar. Get close to a person who prays and learn.
3. Prayer is best learned by asking. Of all the things the disciples could have asked Jesus to teach them, prayer took precedence. Did the disciples feel weak in prayer? Did they see Jesus praying in ways they did not understand? Did they recognize the utter significance of prayer as they observed Jesus communing with His Father?
Seriously. If you were one of the twelve, would your request have been “Teach me to pray?”
Asking is an act of humility. It is admitting we don’t know how and acknowledging our need for help. It also indicates our eagerness to learn.
Begin by praying, “Lord, teach me to pray.”
4. Prayer can be learned. Prayer isn’t found beautifully displayed in a welcome basket for the new Christian. It isn’t automatic or innate to living a Christian life. Prayer is learned over time due to its relational nature. Relationships take time to develop. Your relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit is no exception. In prayer your heart opens to the heart of the Trinity and the relationship deepens in love.
In summary, Prayer is not something you make up; it is something you enter into.
In teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus invites us to enter the ever-flowing communion of the Trinity. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus has even given us the uniquely uncommon words to “get in.”
Let’s learn how.
You can read more from Dr. Keith Kettenring at https://www.theuncommonjourney.com