“Abide in me, and I in you…. Jn 15:3
Over the last few years, God has been teaching me an important lesson: deep, daily communion with God is vital for faithfulness and fruitfulness. Several weeks ago I had the privilege of guest preaching on John 15:1-11, where Jesus exhorts his disciples to abide in Him for fruitful living.
What exactly does abiding in Christ look like? Maybe our answers would begin with quiet times, meal-time prayers, and family devotions – all important, and all expressions of abiding in Christ. But I don’t think we’ve gotten deep enough yet. Abiding in Christ is something all-encompassing and all-consuming. Thankfully Paul Miller, in his book A Praying Life, goes deep and fills in some gaps for us. He offers five characteristics of what he calls a praying life (Miller’s quotes in italics below)…
1. The praying life is interconnected with all of life.
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. 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.
2. The praying life becomes aware of the 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 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. People often talk about prayer as if it is disconnected from what God is doing in their lives. But we are actors in his drama, listening for our lines, quieting our hearts so we can hear the voice of the Playwright.
3. The praying life gives birth to hope.
If God is composing a story with our lives, then our lives are no longer static. We aren’t paralyzed by life; we can hope. Many Christians give in to a quiet cynicism that leaves us unknowingly paralyzed. Many Christians haven’t stopped believing in God; we have just become functional deists, living with God at a distance. We view the world as a box with clearly defined edges. But as we learn to pray well, we’ll discover that this is my Father’s world. Because my Father controls everything, I can ask, and He will listen and act. Since I am his child, change is possible – and hope is born.
4. The praying life becomes integrated.
The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self-absorbed, focused on my quiet and me. 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 offer 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.
5. The praying life reveals the heart.
As you develop your relationship with your heavenly Father, you’ll change. You’ll discover nests of cynicism, pride, and self-will in your heart. You will be unmasked. None of us likes being exposed. We have an allergic reaction to dependency, but this is the state of the heart most necessary for a praying life. A needy heart is a praying heart. Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer. So when it starts getting uncomfortable, don’t pull back from God. He is just starting to work. Be patient.
A responsive prayer
Too often I pray for the wrong reasons. Like the hypocrites, I pray to get attention from others. Like the pagans, I babble thinking that somehow I could manipulate you into doing what I want. Forgive me. I forget that this world is about You and the story You are writing. I lose a sense of our Father-child relationship. Teach me to pray to You as my Father and Lord. Help me to approach you in light of the gospel: as I am, with my whole being, and with great reverence. Amen.