Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Pain of Prayer

Jesus called his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. This is the cross-life. It is the only entry into the abundance life Christ promised. Yet it involves suffering and hard work (not to earn salvation, but in following the Savior). Part of the pain is prayer.

Prayer, especially as praise and thanksgiving, can be joyful--communion with God as he reveals his goodness. But prayer can be hard and agonizing work. It often is for me. I must deny myself to pray over worries and concerns regarding myself, others, and this fallen and bleeding world, to keep praying when nothing seems to be happening, when my thought wander. Yet Jesus said to his disciples before his own supreme suffering, "Could you not pray for one hour?" How many of us in America today pray for one hour at a time, or even one hour a week? I mean time dedicated only to prayer, not prayer throughout the day or ten second prayer before a meal.

Jesus said we should not make a spectacle of our prayer, as did the Scribes and Pharisees, but how do we pray with feeling and intelligence publicly in a way that reveals our anguished yearning for the greater in-breaking of God's Kingdom? How often do we weep over the world's woes as we pray--in the manner of Jeremiah?In hedonistic American, where for so many, the principal values are personal peace and affluence (Francis Schaeffer), we tend to avoid the difficult and medicate the painful at all costs. Yet the gospel calls us to embrace certain kinds of pain--the pain of struggling against a sinful world and self--for the sake of the greater good of the Kingdom of God.

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