A communion of men and women with God
by Mike Cavanaugh
When Phil first asked me to write a blog I thought I would simply take something that I have written previously and update it. However, the more I thought about it the more I wanted my first and last blog to be more meaningful, more heartfelt than simply rehashing something of old. For the last two years I have made a commitment to increase the amount of prayer in my life. When Amanda and I signed up for prayer team, we made a concentrated effort at home and thanks to a recommendation from a close friend I picked up the book Prayer by Timothy Keller (2014). Definitely would recommend this book to anyone interested. During the last couple of years I certainly feel blessed for the answered prayers I have seen with the additional focus on prayer, Bill Mingle’s son in-law being baptized; great moment, the fact we are moving to Austin, getting August’s vision corrected, the list goes on. Even with all of that I still have a tendency to struggle with prayer and I would say that it boils down to two underlying reason that likely we all share in common. The first being fear of structure and the second being categorization.
Over the course of 2015 reading Prayer at least two different times, I have had fantastic little nuggets that spoke to me at different point while reading. There is one in particular that each time I have read it, really just speaks to me. Here is what Keller says regarding prayer. “The power of our prayers, then, lies not primarily in our effort and striving, or in any technique, but rather in our knowledge of God. You may respond, ‘But God spoke audible works to Job out of a storm. I wish God spoke to me like that.’ The answer is – we have something better, an incalculably clearer expression of God’s character. In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… the radiance of God’s glory and exact representation of his being.” (Heb 1:1-3).
Keller goes on to say “Jesus Christ is the word of God (John 1:1-14) because no more comprehensive, personal and beautiful communication of God is possible”. No matter how many times I read that, how often I think about that passage it still overwhelms me. The difficulty I have each time is simply understanding what Keller is saying. This quote is one of the may reason why I have read prayer a few times, I forget the confidence that the passage gives me to stop worrying about how I pray. There is no correct way to have a conversation with God and that is the beauty and power that there is in prayer. Growing up Catholic with such an emphasis causes me to focus more on form and less on substance, this is at the heart of what Keller is say. The power is in the conversation not how you approach it. This is the fear of structure.
I believe though that there is more to my challenge of prayer than just the simplicity. Modernity has given us many wonderful things like GPS, antibiotics, and instant burritos. It has also given us some less helpful things—including a tendency to separate our lives into distinct categories. Rather than viewing our life as an integrated whole, we label activities as being part of our family life, or work life, or our spiritual life as if what occurs in one category is distinct and unaffected by what happens in the others (Jethani, S. 2015). I hate this! So often in my career I have had people try to explain to me the “work / life” balance.
In my opinion there is no difference in work life, personal life, spiritual life, prayer life, sports life, friends life, whatever. There is one common word there, life. By my standards of providing for my family all while enjoying what I do, I would say that I have had a fairly successful career and will contribute a large part of that to how engaged my kids and Amanda are in all aspects of my life. I don’t leave work at work or home at home, if I have a crappy day my favorite part is telling my best friend all about it, so she can tell me how correct I am in being upset. So many people I know try to separate these things and put labels on them. This constant categorization forces us to try label everything for separation and this societal challenge creates that angst in our prayer life.
Too many of us think of prayer as something we must add on to our already full schedules like going to the gym or doing our taxes; this year sucked from a tax point of view. Dallas Willard offers a different perspective based on a more integrated vision of life: “Don’t seek to develop a prayer life — seek a praying life. A ‘prayer life’ is a segmented time for prayer. You’ll end feeling guilty that you don’t spend more time in prayer. Eventually you’ll probably feel defeated and give up. A ‘praying life’ is a life that is saturated with prayerfulness — you seek to do all that you do with the Lord.”
There’s certainly nothing wrong with setting aside time for prayer, but this is not the goal we are called to. Instead, we are to integrate our communion with God into all that we do and into every moment of our day. Each time you begin a new task today, briefly pause to remember God’s presence with you and invite him into the life you are already living. Don’t worry about structure or time, just have a chat with the one that died on the cross so that our sins can be forgiven.
Jethani, Skye (2015) Daily Devotional Series. Retrieved from email devotional dated March 2015.
Keller, Timothy (2014). Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.