The Discipline of Prayer
“To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.”
To be honest, I started this chapter a month ago, set it down as I was interrupted, and only tonight picked it back up. I really should have finished it back in February. Not only would I have been loyal to the plan I set for myself, but I really could have used some of this teaching in my own life (and in the series I taught on prayer through March). Foster takes time to point out that there are many different types of prayer in existence, too many for one chapter (in fact, he wrote a whole book on the subject). So he chose to focus on the prayer of intercession (praying for others). And he made some rather striking observations.
At one point, Foster talks about the fatalistic attitude (my words) in which we refuse to pray because God has already made His mind up about a thing. I myself have often fallen into this mindset, asking God merely to work within His will for things. But Foster points out that Scripture shares examples of God changing His mind because of human prayers (Exodus 32.14 and Jonah 3.10 were both cited). It makes me a bit uneasy compared to what I have been taught about God’s plan, but Foster is right. Scripture does speak (at least from a human vantage point) of God changing His mind. Foster also points out that Jesus in His prayer for others never ended with “if it be Your will.” He always prayed in confidence, already knowing what God’s will is. As I said already, I have noticed myself doing this a lot. Foster argues that we instead should be asking God if He wants us to pray for a situation or a person, and then commit to praying. It is an interesting idea to me, to ask God if He wants me to pray. I have always been taught that I should pray for everything, period. To consider myself asking permission to pray seems odd… yet it feels more in line to ask than to bull right in assuming I know what God’s will is.
Foster also makes some great points about how we react when our prayers are not answered in the way we desire (we give up, assuming it was a no, rather than looking for a broken connection, as we would with a malfunctioning TV), how we should commit just as much time (if not more) in our prayers to listening for God’s voice, and that we should commit to praying for the small issues (colds, fevers, etc.) just as much as we do the big ones (cancer, MS, etc.).
Though I struggle with the idea of determining what God’s will is before I pray for someone (good solid arguments, but my teaching is embedded in my heart), I am overjoyed to see the same commitment to “holy imagination” showed in this chapter as it was in the previous chapter on meditation. I often find myself engaging my imagination when I pray for others (0r for situations), and struggle to flush those images from my mind. But if they are inspired, I should be focusing on them. I love how Foster walks through a handful of ideas about how to seek God’s direction in prayer and how to involve our imagination in our prayers at the end of this chapter. It is a lot of solid, practical guidance for me. Sometimes I need that concrete example to follow, to start with. And I am glad that Foster was able to give that to close out this chapter.