I’ve been rereading portions of one of my favorite books, A Praying Life by: Paul Miller recently. Below are some excerpts that struck a chord the second time through. I attempted to be selective, but ended up being lengthy. It’s just that good…
“When Jesus describes the intimacy he wants with us, he talks about joining us for dinner. ’Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ (Revelation 3:20). A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship…Because prayer is all about relationship, we can’t work on prayer as an isolated part of life. That would be like going to the gym and working out just your left arm. You’d get a strong left arm, but it would look odd. Many people’s frustrations with prayer come from working on prayer as a discipline in the abstract. We don’t learn to pray in isolation from the rest of our lives” (p. 20-21).
“Things such as growing up and learning to love do have an overall feel, though. They are slow, steady, filled with ups and downs. Not spectacular but nevertheless real. There is not one magic bullet, but a thousand pinpricks that draw us into a spiritual journey or pilgrimage. And every spiritual pilgrimage has a story. If God is sovereign, then he is in control of all the details of my life. If he is loving, then he is going to be shaping the details of my life for my good. If he is all-wise, then he’s not going to do everything I want him to do because I don’t know what I need. If he is patient, then he is going to take time to do all this. When we put all these things together—God’s sovereignty, love, wisdom, and patience—we have a divine story…You can’t have a good story without tension and conflict, without things going wrong. Unanswered prayers create some of the tension in the story God is weaving in our lives. When we realize this, we want to know what God is doing. What pattern is God weaving?” (p. 23)
“If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. Because we are less hectic on the inside, we have a greater capacity to love…and thus to be busy, which in turn drives us even more into a life of prayer…A needy heart is a praying heart. Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer” (p. 24).
“Jesus wants us to be without pretense when we come to him in prayer, instead we often try to be something we aren’t…The difficulty of coming just as we are is that we are messy. And prayer makes it worse. When we slow down to pray, we are immediately confronted with how unspiritual we are, with how difficult it is to concentrate on God. We don’t know how bad we are until we try to be good. Nothing exposes our selfishness and spiritual powerlessness like prayer….Jesus does not say, ‘Come to me, all you who have learned to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.’ No, Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says, ‘Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest’ (Matt. 11:28). The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy” (p. 30-31).
“We received Jesus because we were weak, and that’s how we follow him. Paul told the Colossians, ‘Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him’ (Colossians 2:6). We forget that helplessness is how the Christian life works. The gospel, God’s free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don’t have it all together. The same is true for prayer. The very thing we are allergic to—our helplessness—is what makes prayer work. It is work because we are helpless. We can’t do life on our own. Prayer mirrors the gospel. In the gospel, the Father takes us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of salvation. In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of help. We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks at the adequacy of His Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers” (p. 55).
“Strong Christians do pray more, but they pray more because they realize how weak they are” (p.56).
“You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit” (p. 65).
“What does an unused prayer link look like? Anxiety. Instead of connecting with God, our spirits fly around like severed power lines, destroying everything they touh. Anxiety wants to be God but lacks God’s wisdom, power, or knowledge. A godlike stance without godlike character and ability is pure tension. Because anxiety is self on its own, it tries to get control…Instead of hunting for the perfect spiritual state to lift you above the chaos, pray in the chaos. As your heart or your circumstances generate probles, keep generating prayer. You will find that the chaos lessens…When you stop trying to control your life and instead allow your anxieties and problems to bring you to God in prayer, you shift from worry to watching. You watch God weave his patterns in the story of your life. Instead of trying to be out front, designing your life, you realize you are inside God’s drama. As you wait, you begin to see him work, and your life begins to sparkle with wonder. You are learning to trust again” (p. 70-73).
“The opposite of a childlike spirit is a cynical spirit…cynicism and defeated weariness have this in common: They both question the active goodness of God on our behalf…it creates a numbness toward life…It protects you from crushing disappointment, but it paralyzes you from doing anything. To be cynical is to be distant. While offering a false intimacy of being “in the know,” cynicism actually destroys intimacy…The cynic is never fooled, but he is also never delighted…A praying life is just the opposite…prayer is feisty. Cynicism on the other hand, merely critiques. It is passive, cocooning itself from the passions of the great cosmic battle we are engaged in. It is without hope” (p. 77).
The feel of a praying life is cautious optimism—caution because of the Fall, optimism because of redemption” (p. 84).
“What do I lose when I have a praying life? Control. Independence. What do I gain? Friendship with God. A quiet heart. The living work of God in the hearts of those I love. The ability to roll back the tide of evil. Essentially, I lose my kingdom and get his. I move from being an independent player to a dependent lover. I move from being an orphan to a child of God” (p. 125-126).
“The name of Jesus gives my prayer royal access. They get through. He isn’t just the Savior of my soul. He’s also the Savior of my prayers. My prayers come before the throne of God as the prayers of Jesus. Asking in Jesus’ name” isn’t another thing I have to get right so my prayers are perfect. It is one more gift of God because my prayers are so imperfect” (p. 135).
“At the center of self-will is me, carving the world in my image. At the center of prayer is God, carving me in his Son’s image” (p. 156).
“The great struggle of my life is not trying to discern God’s will; it is trying to discern and then disown my own. Once I see that, then prayer flows. I have to be praying because I am no longer in charge. Either I see all of life as a gift, or I demand that it have a certain look to it” (p. 157).