Week 20:The Spiritual Discipline of Prayer
Weekly Digital Detox Reflections
Greetings lovely readers! I cannot tell you how appreciative I am to have you join me here at The Endeavor. I was going to wait a few more weeks before once again giving everyone a run-down of my digital detox routine, however, I’m happy to report that I have received a surprising amount of new subscribers in the last week and feel it would only be fair to give all of you new readers a sense of what I do here.
Every weekday, when I get home from work, I put my phone in a designated spot and treat it like a landline. It stays in one spot and I do my best not to touch it. On top of that, at 6 PM every evening, all the screens in the house get turned off. Once a week, I spend my day working in complete silence. No streaming music, audiobooks, or podcasts. I drive all day for work so this is usually my biggest challenge. When the weekend comes, the phone stays in its designated spot. I do have windows of time where I allow myself to write, but these windows are tight 30 minutes to an hour and then we’re back to screens off or away. I then use these reflections to communicate my thoughts while not distracted by digital technology.
Last week was the beginning of a new series. For the next 10 weeks, We will be exploring one spiritual discipline a week, following “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard J. Foster. I will be offering a different spiritual discipline each week that you will be able to add to your lives as you remove digital technology. My aim here is to make the case that these disciplines are as fruitful practically as they are spiritually.
Thankfully there have been no changes in terms of digital technology. Use has been kept very low. However, there has been remarkable progress in other areas of my life which I attribute to digital detoxing and contemplative prayer. With contemplative prayer on my mind last week, my day of working in complete silence was even more fruitful and impactful than usual. Not only was I working in silence, I was meditating on the Jesus prayer for much of the day. This turned into several evenings over the week of silent meditation upon scripture from the daily liturgical readings, more contemplation over the Jesus prayer, and more reverential prayers after meditation. Then something amazing yet also expected happened. God answered my prayers! A few weeks ago, I opened up about my struggles when it came to making plans. I haven’t been able to let go of that since I wrote it. I was preaching to myself and have been letting it sink in. I’ve prayed numerous times since then asking God to help me grow in this area of my life. Well last weekend, particularly on Saturday evening after some discussion with my wife, I made plans! I created a five-year plan for achieving our financial goals. After that, I decided how much more weight I wanted to lose, and marked a date on the calendar for when I should be able to safely reach that weight. Next, I made a plan for how I’ll eat and exercise to get to that weight and stay there! Then, I made a list of all the things I needed to take care of this coming week. Call our internet provider about some issues we’re having, find a new dentist for us to switch to since the one we were using stopped accepting our insurance, and a few other things I know I need to do. This all seems mundane but the point is, instead of being passive and letting these things be, or letting my wife handle them, I took responsibility for them because God answered my prayers and gave me the desire to plan and to take care of these things.
It is my goal throughout this series to show how practicing spiritual disciplines, such as meditation and prayer, are as effective on a practical level as they are on a spiritual level. Better yet, my goal just might be to point out that there is no reason spiritual practices cannot impact your life in practical ways. There is no separation between your spiritual life and your practical life, it’s all your life! All of it is connected. If you are struggling physically, you are struggling spiritually. If you are struggling spiritually, you’re struggling emotionally. The is no distinction. Your mind, body, and soul are not and cannot be separated from your spirit. Letting go of digital distractions is just one small way to regain your focus. However, regaining your focus is not enough. You must then reorient your focus upon God through prayer.
Before we get too far, it’s important to point out that there is no way I will be able to scratch the surface of even one aspect of prayer in this essay. I will do my best to cover the subject well enough to hopefully spur you into making prayer a daily habit if you haven’t already done so.
Where My Thoughts Have Been
“Prayer catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life. Of all the Spiritual Disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father. Meditation introduces us to the inner life, fasting is an accompanying means, study transforms our minds, but it is the Discipline of prayer that brings us into the deepest and highest work of the human spirit.”
Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline
Why Should I Pray
For most of human history, prayer has been as natural for mankind as breathing. Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhists, or any other believers of any other faith, have always seen prayer as essential to our very being. To whom and how one prays varies widely among traditions, but the discipline of prayer itself is so vital to human existence that the question of “Why should I pray?” has never been an issue. At least not until modern times.
In the Western world and now in much of the East, scientific and technological advancements have brought us to a level of comfort most people throughout history could have never imagined. We have electricity in our homes, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and refrigeration, things most of us, myself included, often take for granted. But wait there’s more! Most of us now carry around small devilish devices that are more advanced and sophisticated than the first rockets or satellites we launched into space. With these devices, you can have all your food or groceries delivered, buy a car, find a “lover” and make all the “friends” you want without ever leaving your house. And when your electricity, air conditioning, plumbing, or refrigerator needs work, just call the Nathaniel Marshalls of the world and they’ll be right over to fix it up.
All of this technology and comfort is indeed tremendous and our standard of living is far higher than our ancestors. But the ability to get all you want, when you want it, and how you want it, combined with a constant connection to more information than we could ever comprehend has left us wondering, what do I need prayer for? Well, as sure as you are in the comfort of modernity, you can be even more certain that at some point, every one of us will face suffering and hardship. At that point, we will be forced to realize that man does not live by bread (or stuff) alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4)
Modernity lures us into a facade of control. You are not in control. We are not in control. Our elected leaders are not in control. No amount of progress will ever change the fact that the only one in control is our Creator. This means that if you want true wisdom, health, and well-being you need not rely on the things of this world, but rather on God. To learn to rely on Him, we must learn to pray.
Learning to Pray
We must remember that there is a learning curve when it comes to prayer. If the disciples were allowed to say “Lord, teach us to pray”1, so are you. Once we have asked this question, we must ready ourselves to listen to the LORD’s response known as the Lord’s Prayer.
“And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”
Luke 11:2-4 KJV
Jesus was telling His disciples then, the same thing He is telling us now. We must approach our Lord with reverence, and with the acknowledgment that we are there to listen to and conform to Him. It is His kingdom which is come, His will to be done on His earth as it is in His Heaven. It’s all about Him. We must humble ourselves before Him in recognition of His Lordship. After this, we ask for our daily bread. The Lord knows our daily basic needs. Asking Him to meet those needs is a further acknowledgment of His rule, and it reminds us of what is important. And before we get carried away asking for excessive material goods, Jesus promptly reminds us to repent! We must ask for the forgiveness of our sins then turn to Christ, act in obedience and faithfulness, and forgive those who have sinned against us. He then concludes by reminding us to ask for help in fleeing temptation, and for deliverance from evil, or as some translations put it, the evil one.
The Lord’s Prayer is our blueprint for learning how to pray. If you ever find yourself needing or wanting to pray but cannot find the words, repeat the Lord’s Prayer. Even if you know what you want to say, pray the Lord’s Prayer first. It will help you focus on what is important, shape whatever else you may pray for, and ready your mind, body, soul, and spirit so you may then remain quiet and listen to what our Lord is saying.
Listening to God is the most important skill we can develop in prayer. To listen is to humble ourselves, understanding that our own words and will are wholly insufficient. “We must hear, know, and obey the will of God before we pray it into the lives of others” (Foster 39). To exercise our ability to listen to God, we would do well to practice contemplative prayer, otherwise known as Christian Meditation. We may never become perfect at this form of prayer, but we can improve. When we do, we will be better able to pray for others and ourselves.
Praying for Others
We cannot pray for others properly without guidance from God. We must ask God to help us recognize the things we should be praying for when praying for others. When a coworker is telling you they are tired because their baby is not sleeping well at night, see this as an opportunity to pray for that baby and that parent to get some sleep. When a friend confides in you about problems within their marriage, pray for them. When you hear of anyone who is sick and needs healing, pray they are healed. Remember, be bold in these prayers. When you are certain that you are praying for good things that are aligned with God’s will, do not be timid, indecisive, or halfhearted about what you’re asking for. God is a good father who gives good gifts to His children and children are never shy in asking for what they know is good. If you are unsure that you have the faith it takes to pray and see answered prayers, remember, that the very desire to do such things is a sign of faith. Remember also that “the Bible tells us that great miracles are possible through faith the size of a tiny mustard seed” (Foster 39). To learn to listen to Christ and pray for others with His guidance is beautiful and necessary. Yet we cannot forget that it is of utmost importance for us to pray for ourselves.
Praying for Ourselves
When it comes to praying for ourselves, we must focus much more on repentance than merely praying for things we want, need, or think we need. It is be better to starve and die with a pure heart than to be full and unrepentant. To repent does not simply mean we just need to feel bad for the sin we commit, say sorry, ask for forgiveness, and then just move along. No. To repent is to recognize our sin and the pattern of behaviors that enabled such sin, ask for forgiveness, and do an about-face, turning away from the sinful path of the world which leads to death toward the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life. We are fallen beings in a fallen world. Yet those who believe in Christ are called by Him to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Why would Jesus tell us to be perfect when he knows we’re sinners? How are we supposed to do that? Through a life of prayerful repentance which brings us back to The Lord’s Prayer.
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
Matthew 6:9-13 KJV
In this short prayer, we see a complete picture of repentance. We ask for forgiveness of our sins and help as we forgive those who have sinned against us. To then ask that we not be led into temptation and be delivered from evil is the call of the prayerful asking God to help them no longer follow the ways of this world but instead to walk with God for eternity.
I truly love the prayers of repentance we find in scripture. They teach us even kings chosen by God himself, such as David, must submit themselves to repentant prayer when they have sinned. They also teach us that prayer must be accompanied by action. It Is not enough for us to vocalize the understanding of our sin, but to turn from it and walk in the ways of our Lord.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: And my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: And in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; And take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; And uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; And sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: And my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; And my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.”
Psalm 51:1-15 KJV
David, after sinning egregiously against God through his horrendous behavior with Bathsheba and her husband, is confronted by Nathan, a prophet of God, and convicted to repent. In this prayer of repentance, we see his admission of sins and recognition of the mercy and grace he needs to be spared God’s wrath. We also see David asking God to redeem him and change his so dramatically that he may lead sinners to be converted to God, that they also may repent. How did God respond? He forgave David, continuing to bless him and his kingship. David is even recognized today as a Saint in both the Orthodox and Catholic Church. That’s right. A man who committed adultery numerous times and had a man murdered to cover it up was forgiven of his sins, became a saint, and is now eternally in the presence of God because he repented of his sins and sinful lifestyle and then spent the rest of his life worshipping God with a pure heart. That is the power of genuine, repentant prayer for ourselves. Through the grace, mercy, love, salvation and redemption of Jesus, lived out through a prayerful life, sinners like us can be changed to the point that upon death, we are presented as perfect before God because we are then alive in Christ, who is perfect.
As stated above, what I’ve written here does not even begin to scratch the surface of any one particular form of prayer. I’m okay with that. It’s far better for us to become better at practicing prayer than to be good at just writing about it. I hope something you’ve read here compels you to put your phone away, turn your devices off, sit down in a quiet room, and pray. It’s as practical as it is spiritual. If you’re short on time, recite the Lord’s Prayer, The Jesus Prayer2, or just ask God to be with you, be silent, and listen to Him. Should you hear what He has to say, thank Him, and obey Him.
I’m taking this next week off from writing. I’m not sure why, but writing on this topic was really tough and I feel like I need to rest. I’ve also got quite of bit of work to do at my job and at home. So, I’m going to spend this next week focusing on prayer, meditation, making sure my home-life and work-life are in proper order. I’ll be back in two weeks to cover the spiritual discipline of fasting. Until then, stay well and stay offline. God bless you!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us, sinners.
Thank you for reading! Do your best to disconnect from the artificial, and connect with others.
And as always,
Keep thy head cool and thine eyes true.
Howard Pyle, Man of Iron
Scripture of the Week
And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
Word of the Week
(noun) Zenith- the time at which something is most powerful or successful.
Example: When engaged in a daily habit of prayer, a Christian is at the zenith of their connection to God.
Music of the Week
O Come O Come Emmanuel (feat. Sleep at Last)- The Liturgists. For the next few weeks, I will be posting music related to Advent. Enjoy!
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.