Practicing The Spiritual Discipline Of Prayer

Someone once said that when we work, we work; but when we pray, God works. It is difficult for God to work in someone’s life when they are walking around with their hands in their pockets, believing that they can handle life’s issues on their own. Bill Hybels, in his book, Too Busy Not To Pray, is emphatic when he states,

Prayerless people cut themselves off from God’s prevailing power, and the frequent result is the familiar feeling of being overwhelmed, overrun, beaten down, pushed around, defeated. Surprising numbers of people are willing to settle for lives like that. Don’t be one of them. Nobody has to live like that. Prayer is the key to unlocking God’s prevailing power in your life.

Through prayer, one enters into what Clement of Alexandria described as a “dialogue with God.” In that dialogue one finds intimacy with the Creator as, not only does one draw near to God, but God draws near to them. In that dialogue, one takes further steps toward becoming like the Son and are involved more deeply in God’s plan for their lives, seeing their plans fade away into the mist. It is in such an intimate setting, alone with God, that one’s heart is opened to receive God’s strength and energy. It is at the feet of God that our lives, having stepped into and been touched by His presence, begin to burst forth the fruits of the Spirit.

One must remember as Richard J. Foster writes, in his book, Celebration of Discipline, that “For those explorers in the frontiers of faith, prayer was no little habit tacked onto the periphery of their lives; it was their lives.” Yet in the hectic pace many keep, prayer falls by the wayside.

As my wife and I began to intentionally force ourselves to sit down together in the morning and at night to pray, we were blessed. We made sure to not create a “legalistic” rule and therefore did not “beat ourselves up” if we failed to pray one morning as we rushed out of the house or one evening as we fell exhausted into bed after the day’s activities. We simply got up the next day and continued to attempt to be very intentional about prayer together.

TESTIMONY:

My wife and I are in a period of transition. I have been reappointed to Janes United Methodist Church in Rising Sun, Maryland starting July 1st. We will be leaving Rock Hall, Maryland the end of June; therefore, these last two months are filled with packing, mixed emotions, and countless responsibilities as I, as a pastor, attempt to “finish well” at one Charge and “start well” at another. On top of the transition we face, our oldest son is graduating high school and getting ready to go to college in the fall. At this time in our lives, prayer is vital.

One of the major concerns we have had in this transition is where we are going to live in Rising Sun as the church there does not provide a parsonage, but instead provides us with a housing allowance. For several weeks, my wife and I looked at rentals in the area, only to have one door after the next shut. We finally found a rental in a beautiful neighborhood with a pool for our children and committed. Three weeks later it fell through.

We prayed everyday that God would help us with our housing situation. It was brought to our attention that we might buy a home and so we decided to explore that option. On discovering that we were approved for a loan, we went up to Rising Sun to look at a home to purchase.

My wife prayed that God would “shut all doors” except the one He wanted us to walk through. Doors were quickly shut in our search as homes we looked at were too expensive, needed too much work, or were too far from the church.

One home stood out. It was a small rancher, with a basement and garage, in a family-friendly neighborhood, half mile from the church. It was brand new, never lived in, and we quickly fell in love with it.

So we made an offer. It was immediately turned down with no counter-offer made. We increased our offer by $8,000 and that offer was immediately turned down with no counter-offer made. My wife and I were at a standstill. What do we do? There were no other houses available that would work for us. We loved this house and felt God had led us to it. Yet, the door was closing.

Through prayer, my wife felt God telling her to “be still,” to “sit and wait.” Over and over God led her to listen to the song, “Help Me Find It,” by Sidewalk Prophets.

They sing, “If there’s a road I should walk…Help me find it…If I need to be still…Give me peace for the moment…Whatever Your will…Whatever Your will…Can you help me find it.” They sing, “I will trust in You…You’ve never failed before…I will trust in You.” My wife quoted these words to her worrying husband many times throughout the week.

I wanted to up the offer again and fight to get the house. But my wife told me again that she felt God was telling her that we should “be still,” to “sit and wait.” So we told the Realtor to let the seller know we were going to sit on our last offer and begin to look at other homes. And we prayed.

The next day was Sunday and I was getting ready to step into the pulpit at Rock Hall United Methodist Church. Three minutes before I stepped into the pulpit, my phone vibrated and I glanced at the message. The seller had reconsidered, called, and accepted our second offer. I was able to announce to my wife, along with the congregation, that God had answered our prayers. We were to become homeowners in Rising Sun.

My wife reminded this impatient preacher of a scene in the film, The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf, the wizard, arrives on the scene. He says, “A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.” God, as well, is never late, nor is He early. God arrives precisely on time. And what surperb timing as my wife received a tremendous Mother’s Day gift…a home.

Prayer not only held us together during a stressful time, but prayers were answered and God moved. What is most important to remember is not that God answered our prayers by providing us a home in Rising Sun, but that through the process my wife and I drew closer to our Creator, our Heavenly Father, as well as closer to one another. To draw closer to God and one another is a much greater reward than any house. To drink “deep draughts” of God is greater than any blessing the world can give.

Rev. Drew M. Christian

Adopting A “Rule of Life”

Kenneth Boa, in his book, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation states, “we have bought the illusion that we can be like Christ without imitating his spirituality. If we wish to be like our Master, we must imitate his practice; if we believe he knew how to live, we must seek the grace to live like him.” Furthermore, Boa pulls no punches in stating that it is

absurd to think that we could excel at any sport such as golf or tennis without investing the needed time, training, and practice. But when it comes to living the Christian life, we suppose that we are doing well if we attend church and open a Bible once or twice a week. If believers expended the same time and energy cultivating their spiritual lives as they are willing to invest in becoming reasonably skillful at any sport or hobby, the world would look with wonder at the power of the body of Christ. We desire to know Christ more deeply, but we shun the lifestyle that would make it happen.

Boa’s words struck the heart of this researcher and pastor as he continues,

There is no shortcut to spiritual formation…Scripture encourages us to continually press on toward the goal and to reach forward to what lies ahead so that we may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of us (Philippians 3: 12-14). This requires a life-long commitment to the disciplines that Jesus, the apostles, and godly followers of the Way have practiced through the centuries. None of the people whose spiritual vitality we have admired regarded these disciplines as optional, and it would be naïve to suppose that we are history’s first exceptions.

The phrase “rule of life” comes from “the rule that governed each religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. Among other matters, it described a pattern of life, a communal spirituality that came to distinguish a particular order from others.” The most famous rule was the Rule of St. Benedict composed by Benedict of Nursia for his monastery around AD 540.

Benedict’s rule dealt with everything from times for prayer, meals and sleep, to how one was to relate to the world outside the abbey. St. Benedict believed that when “we awaken to our life with God, our spiritual senses come back to life. But this awakening must follow a process guided by the sources of the spiritual life,” including scripture, the writings of saints, self-examination, active engagement in the community, and cultivating humility.

Following Easter Sunday, I sat down with my wife and we wrote out a “rule” that we would attempt to follow over a ten-week period. Harold Miller’s, Finding A Personal Rule of Life, was invaluable in giving suggestions for writing one’s own “rule.”

Our “rule” included weeks of reading and practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation (especially Lecto Divina), silence, solitude, fasting and vigil keeping. Our “rule” called for specific periods of time; for example, “Will attempt to pray together 20-30 minutes, twice a day, and individually 10-15 minutes, twice a day, beginning each time of prayer with a Psalm.” The hope is that such intentionality will push us to develop new habits, becoming closer to Christ as we practice “gazing at the Son,” as we practice drinking “deep draughts of God.”

Rev. Drew M. Christian

Why “Deep Draughts Of God”?

As I take my first steps into the “blogging” world, I want to share the inspiration for the title “Deep Draughts of God.”  The title of my blog flows out of Psalm 42, The Message translation, which reads…

A white-tailed deer drinks
from the creek;
I want to drink God,
deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive.

In the winter of 2013, working on my Doctorate in Ministry at Bethel Seminary, I took a class entitled, Inner Resources For Leaders.  This course became the impetus for my adventure into the “blogging” world.

As part of the course, I committed to a project that would challenge me over a period of ten weeks to practice seven spiritual disciplines with my wife, pushing us to build a “rule” that would open us up to that which God wanted to do in our lives, in our hearts.  We would practice these seven spiritual disciplines, “gazing at the Son,” with one goal…to become more like Him.

As a pastor, having served in the United Methodist Church for seventeen years, I often find that “gazing at the Son” often takes a back seat to gazing at the current issues, ceaseless problems, and countless ministries. Keith Meyer, in “Stopping Lessons: Ministry From A Life Of Sabbatical Rest,” an article in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, describes many in ministry having “been formed by the driven pace of their studies and student life; their head too full and their hearts and lives depleted.  They do not know how to really pray and listen for God’s daily leading…[we must] know how to ‘stop’ in ministry in order to minister from God’s strength and not our own.’”  Such a description depicts not only the minister but all of us, who often find ourselves with our heads too full of the issues of the world and our hearts and lives depleted of energy due to the endless responsibilities and battles we face.

It is very easy to become unfocused and instead of seeking God’s guidance and strength, we use the same method to deal with issues, discern vision, and find strength for the journey that we use to fight sin.  We launch what Richard Foster calls “a frontal attack.”

Foster in his book, Celebration of Discipline, explains…

“Our ordinary method of dealing with ingrained sin is to launch a frontal attack.  We rely on our willpower and determination.  Whatever may be the issue for us – anger, fear, bitterness, gluttony, pride, lust, substance abuse – we determine never to do it again; we pray against it, fight against it, set our will against it.  But the struggle is all in vain.”

Foster continues, “The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours.  The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside.”

For my project, I asked my wife if she would join me in adopting the practice of several spiritual disciplines over a period of ten weeks, in hopes of cultivating our spiritual life and allowing Christ to do a deep work within us, an “inside job.”

The goal is to spend time (time which we often do not intentionally set aside as we are overwhelmed by the grind and responsibilities of each day) drinking “deep draughts” of God.

This blog is an opportunity to share with my congregations and others our journey, our experience, and what we learn about and from the following spiritual disciplines…

  1. Prayer
  2. Study (both Biblical & Devotional)
  3. Meditation
  4. Silence
  5. Solitude
  6. Fasting
  7. Vigil Keeping

I hope that you will join my wife and I on our journey and that some of what we share will help you go deeper with God, drinking “deep draughts,” and allowing Him to refresh, revive, and reenergize your heart and spirit.  I pray that our journey inspires you to take time to “gaze at the Son,” allowing Him to do a mighty work within you, an “inside job,” conforming you into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

God Bless!

Rev. Drew M. Christian