I just finished this book by Paul Miller. It's unusual for me to read an entire religious book other than the scriptures. It's extremely unusual for me to read a religious book written by someone of a different religion--in this case Evangelical Christian. For a while now, though, I've been bothered by my prayers. I knew I needed to do better--I knew I could do better--but they just seemed kind of flat. Anyway, I was looking for some books to download to my iPod to read at the gym and I stumbled across A Praying Life. It had a good reader response, so I bought it. It was an answer to prayer :)
Here are some things I connected with in this book:
"Our natural desire to pray comes from Creation. We are made in the image of God. Our inability to pray comes from the Fall."
This reminded me that by nature I am divine--something I tend to forget--so I should be able to communicate with a divine being. Not just communicate, but relate--have a relationship. Maybe I'm trying to hard to pray "right" instead of to pray intuitively.
"You have true intimacy, based not on how good you are but on the goodness of Jesus."
Casey often reminds me of this--that the love that comes to us from God comes because of who He is, not who we are. "True intimacy" is something I think I want--I want to want it. Actually, I'm not sure I know what it is or what it involves.
"We don't learn to pray in isolation from the rest of our lives. For example, the more I love our youngest daughter, Emily, the more I pray for her. The reverse is true as well; the more I learn how to pray for her, the more I love her. Nor is faith isolated from prayer. The more my faith grows, the bolder my prayers get for Jill. (his wife) Then, the more my prayers for her are answered, the more my faith grows. Likewise, if I suffer, I learn how to pray. As I learn how to pray, I learn how to endure suffering. This intertwining applies to every aspect of the Christian life."
"...learning to pray is almost identical to maturing over a lifetime."
"Many Christians pray mechanically for God's kingdom (for missionaries, the church, and so on), but all the while their lives are wrapped up in their own kingdoms. You can't add God's kingdom as an overlay to your own."
"Adam and Eve began their quest for self-identity after the Fall. Only after they acted independently of God did they have a sense of a separate self. Because Jesus has no separate sense of self, he has no identity crisis, no angst. Consequently, he doesn't try to "find himself." He knows himself only in relationship with his Father."
Initially, this feels a little offensive. But when I think about it it feels true and right. He goes on to say,
"That's why contemplating the terror of the cross at Gethsemane was such an agony for Jesus. He had never experienced a moment when he wasn't in communion with his Father. Jesus' anguish is our normal."
That last statement really got me. Jesus' anguish at being separated from his Father--even briefly--could that have caused some of his agony? Of course, it did--he cried out for Him on the cross. How much does the pain of that separation affect us? It certainly affected Alma the Younger when it was brought to his attention. He said it was so awful that it made him tremble to think of anyone having to go through it. The sons of Mosiah risked their lives in order to go into the land of their enemies to try to bring them to God so they wouldn't have to go through what they had.
"When our kids were teenagers, Jill asked me, "Do you know what our family needs most?" Lots of things came to mind, including a newer car. Her one-word answer took me completely by surprise: "mercy." We didn't need to get more organized. We didn't need more money. We needed mercy."
I need mercy. Boy do I need mercy.
"A prayer life isn't simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined by because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can't even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus."
I'm a covenant-breaker, but I want to be a covenant-keeper. The covenant I break the most often is most definitely the one I make at the sacrament table each week--"that they do always remember Him." Yet here I am--"That guy looks creepy." "She's got on some pretty sleazy looking clothes." Maybe I don't say it aloud, but I'm definitely not remembering Him.
"I make the jump from optimism to darkness so quickly because I am not grounded in a deep, abiding faith that God is in the matter, not matter what the matter is. I am looking for pleasant results, not deeper realities."
I so much need to give the word "blessing" a new definition--how about a blessing is something that comes from God and is designed especially for me with the intent to bring me closer to Him.
"Repentance brings the split personality together and thus restores integrity to the life. The real self is made public. When the proud person is humbled, the elevated self is united with the true self." and "When we remove our false selves, repentance creates integrity. We return to the real source of love--our heavenly Father. We become authentic."
Is repentance not merely a change of heart and mind, but an actual restoration of my true self?
"It (Judaism) survived attempts to exterminate it from Pharaoh (Moses), the Philistines (David), the Syrians (Elijah), the Babylonians (Daniel), the Persians (Esther), and the Samaritans (Ezra). It survived the Greeks during the time of the Maccabees, the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and the forced evacuation from Palestine in AD 135. It survived Islam, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian tsars, and Hitler's Final Solution. But Orthodox Judaism has barely survived the Enlightenment. It is but a shadow of its past, claiming only 10 to 15 percent of Judaism."
"A thankful heart is constantly extending grace because it has received grace."
How often am I extended grace from the Lord and I refuse to receive it?
"Self-will closed the door to a spirit of prayer."
I'm always stumbling over that one. And the next highlight--
"The great struggle of my life is not trying to discern God's will; it is trying to discern and then disown my own."
I hear ya.
"The best gift of the desert is God's presence. We see this in Psalm 23. In the beginning of the psalm, the Shepherd is in front of me--"he leads me beside still waters" (verse 2); at the end he is behind me--"goodness and love will pursue me" (verse 6, NIV); but in the middle, as I go through "the valley of the shadow of death," he is next to me--"I will fear no evil, for you are with me" (verse 4). The protective love of the Shepherd gives me the courage to face the interior journey."
I read little story once of a guy who was sitting in a priesthood leadership meeting. The general authority who was conducting the meeting asked (probably in reference to D&C 18:10), "Brother Jones, what is the worth of a soul?" He was taken by surprise at being put on the spot and asked him to repeat the question. Finally, he said,"I suppose the worth of a soul lies in its ability to become like God." God has eternal life. He lives it and He has the ability to give it. To give life--in and of Himself. No wonder we are cherished, loved, protected, guided.
Recently we had the sister missionaries over for dinner and one of them talked about an article in which the author said that everything is stacked in our favor to triumph over this life. So everything must be stacked in my favor to be able to pray more meaningfully--to really communicate with Him. Knowing that--believing it--helps a lot.
"When we don't receive what we pray for or desire, it doesn't mean that God isn't acting on our behalf."
"The thought--Paul, I'm going to work on your character--had a similar impact on me as Jesus' words--"You will deny me three times" (Matthew 26:34)--had on Peter. After his fall, reflecting back on Jesus' warning would have brought Peter to a deeper repentance. It also gave Peter hope, possibly saving him from suicide. He could say, "Jesus knew this about me ahead of time, yet he loved me and prayed for me that I wouldn't despair." In my life, when suffering came the following year, that unexpected thought gave the suffering meaning and purpose. It gave me hope."
I really appreciated this reflection. In fact, reading it again makes me feel so thankful and increases my desire for my family to know this.
"We need the sharp-edged, absolute character of the Word and the intuitive, personal leading of the Spirit. The Word provides the structure, the vocabulary. The Spirit personalizes it to our life."
The "unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost." Yes.
"Augustine recalled when he was a boy stealing unripe pears from his neighbor's orchard even though he had ripe pears on his side. Because Augustine had encountered the living God, he was able to see the irrational bent in his heart toward evil."
It is irrational. It doesn't bring happiness--it's against the nature of the beast to find happiness in doing wrong.
"By June, I realized that God didn't seem particularly interested in saving me from the difficult situation. He just wanted to change me."
Gasp. How often am I praying for things--in my life and the lives of those I love--to go against His will?
"Don't be truth-focused. The truth is that I need to love the other person."
I know that's more important than being right and I have a LOT of things to change.
"Just last week I'd prayed that my Father would show me what feeds a lack of faith in me. I was beginning to see that too much media was subtly framing how I viewed the world."
Introspection. I need a greater ability to understand what I really need to ask for. That's a prayer in and of itself.
I want to have a praying life--to "pray in all things." There are so many things this book has made me think about that I haven't written here. I can't write them because I feel them more than think them, but I believe He understands that kind of communication as well. I can do better. I can become closer to Him.