Friday, October 10, 2008

Discipline in prayer

Mother Teresa had her nuns rising at 4-30 am for a cold-water bath before morning prayers. Some Bible Colleges have a strict rule of rising at 6am for a 'quiet-time'. Philip Yancey writes that for years he resisted a regular routine of prayer, believing that communication with God should be spontaneous and free.

We live in days of indiscipline. If you watch the TV program 'Supernanny' in which a professional nanny goes into the homes of naughty children you will invariably see homes where the parents exert no discipline over their children. It isn't a matter of smacking or not smacking; it is a question of having limits and routines. Students at university learn how to live lives of no boundaries. Party all night, slumber all day; not exactly good preparation for life in the office, classroom or hospital ward.

Yet we resist discipline. It seems somehow authoritarian. It reminds us of the Russian army or goose-stepping Germans. We want to be free.

This is particularly true of the post 1970s generation. Before then society valued self-denial; now it values self fulfilment. We were used to delayed gratification. If you wanted something, you saved up to buy it. Now you use a credit card. If we are expecting prayer to flourish in this atmosphere we will be disappointed. Prayer involves persevering through periods of darkness and dryness. It's results are difficult to measure. There's not much fun in putting a dollar away in a savings bank every day, but that's what we do when we learn to pray. Remember that Peter, James and John and the rest found Jesus' prayer methods perplexing. "Lord, teach us to pray," they asked.

Kingsley Amis, whose lifestyle I hardly think you should emulate, was at least disciplined about his writing. Every morning he would sit down with pencil and paper and write. If he had no ideas, he would still write. The very act of writing would generate ideas of what to write.

People who write prayer manuals either come from convents or monasteries where they live in communities organized for the purpose of praying, or they have servants (or wives) to relieve them of the daily chores. If you work 70 hours a week at the office, and then have to come home to shopping and housework it is a little more difficult to find time for prayer. If you try at the end of the day, a pound to a penny-whistle you fall asleep in the middle of it.

Yet we do learn to be disciplined about some things. How many people manage to catch all the episodes of their favorite TV program? Most people manage to clean their teeth every day. We mostly manage to get to work on time every day. Not many house(wives/husbands) forget to cook the dinner. We forget to pray because we don't think of it as important as going to work, watching television, cooking dinner or cleaning our teeth.

Jesus said, "A man ought always to pray." And that is the key. Do you find prayer difficult? Start to pray. Does it seem futile? Keep on praying. Do your struggle to be fluent in prayer? Pray some more. If you have ever learnt a new language you will know that you only become proficient by using it. Stumbling and hesitant you may be; you can only get better by practising. Whenever I don't no what to write on my blog, I start writing. I write anything, I might need to wipe it out ans start again, but the very act of writing carries me forward. So it is with prayer; the very act of praying will make you better at it.

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