Thursday, 31 October 2013

Prayer That Guards Our Hearts

Throughout my busy day ......
...... have I kept your Word O Lord?

The beautiful thing about beginning the practice of prayer in our lives is the discovery that God is speaking to us, personally. As we listen, we hear God giving direction for our life; what is right and true and good for us to live by. We begin to follow God's Word and doing so brings a special peace into our hearts.

But then, an unsettling pattern begins to become evident. We find ourselves doing the opposite to what we have received from God. Surprised by this, we recommit ourselves to God's direction, only to see ourselves, again doing the opposite. Troubling indeed, but in this we are not alone. Listen to St.Paul speaking about this.

So the trouble is not with God’s Word, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that God’s Word is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s Word with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s Word, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 8:14 - Paraphrase Translation) (Substituting "Law" with "God's Word") 
When speaking of sin in this context, St. Paul is talking about  that which is the "broken part", of our human condition; that which is imperfect and non-compliant with truth. There are various areas of our being where this brokenness occurs; in our physical body, in our psychological formation, in our wounded emotions, in our negative interactions with others, in our troubled conscience, in a history of failures, in our broken hearts. All of this combined, is what St. Paul calls, "the flesh". We enter life innocent and pure, but soon, all these forces begin to shape us. Our good intention must scale this rising wall of negativity, but for the most part it is unable. "I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate."

The goal of the life of prayer is to scale this wall of negativity and reach true freedom of heart. But in order to do this, I must understand what is working against me. What I cannot overcome on my own, the Lord's grace empowers me to accomplish. "Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord."

Within the rich resource of prayer is a form of prayer specifically intended to support us as we deal with our divided hearts. It is called the Prayer of Examine. In this form of prayer, we look back over the events of our day, to discover the forces, within and without, that shaped our living that day. For those things that drew us closer to the Lord we give thanks. But we are equally intent on recognizing the things that divided our hearts, and interfered with our efforts to be  faithful to the Lord. Our intention is not to accuse ourselves, the Evil One has that covered. We are looking for those places in our lives where the Lord wishes to meet us, so that he can bring his saving grace to heal us and empower us.

In a secular worldview, people look for all manner of excuses for their negative behavior or to put the blame on others. In the prayer of examine, one is ready to except responsibility for their actions, what ever the reason, but most importantly, they seek to understand how, with God's grace, to be an instrument of reconciliation and redemption for that which is broken. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:17The aim of the Christian Life is to become a co-redeemer with Christ. The aim of prayer is to learn how.

The Prayer of Examine

Our lives are lived out in the real world of time and place. It was at this very time, this place, that I did, said, interacted, reacted, or failed to say or do, that resulted in these real consequences. The Prayer of Examine is no less real. It too, must have a time and place in my day to take place. It must be approached in all honesty, for its purpose is to uncover and see; but to see as the Lord sees us.

There are five steps to take in the Prayer of Examine. 
  1. Ask God for light. I want to look at my day with God’s eyes, not merely my own.
  2. Give thanks. The day I have just lived is a gift from God. Be grateful for it.
  3. Review the day. I carefully look back on the day just completed, being guided by the Holy Spirit.
  4. Face your shortcomings. I face up to what is wrong—in my life and in me.
  5. Look toward the day to come. I ask where I need God in the day to come.
 "Yet how do we hear the voice of God? Our Christian tradition has at least four answers to that question." - See more at: Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards through Your Day
 (For a complete and thorough treatment of the Prayer of Examine, go to the Ignatian Spirituality Site - LINK)

Points to consider:

  • This prayer need not be long in time. (10 to 15 minutes is often enough)
  • One is not trying to "to strain gnats out of their soup", rather to discover what may be spoiling it - what needs changing in the recipe, to make it better.
  • "Know thy self". Life has shaped me into the person I am today. But it is I, that person, that God knows perfectly, the person God accepts into his loving embrace, the person whose future the Lord will reveal.
  • Nothing is greater than the hand of God, nothing more perfect than his plans for us.
  • We are vessels of clay, now formed by his hands, destined to contain the treasures of heaven.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

"Let Us Exercise Our Desire in Prayer" - St.Augustine

Continuing the theme we began in the last post, St. Augustine offers these thoughts.

From a Letter to Proba by Saint Augustine

Why in our fear of not praying as we should, do we turn to so many things, to find what we should pray for? Why do we not say instead, in the words of the psalm: I have asked one thing from the Lord, this is what I will seek: to dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of my life, to see the graciousness of the Lord, and to visit his temple? There, the days do not come and go in succession, and the beginning of one day does not mean the end of another; all days are one, simultaneously and without end, and the life lived out in these days has itself no end.

So that we might obtain this life of happiness, he who is true life itself taught us to pray, not in many words as though speaking longer could gain us a hearing. After all, we pray to one who, as the Lord himself tells us, knows what we need before we ask for it.

Why he should ask us to pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, may perplex us if we do not realize that our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (for he cannot fail to know it), but wants us rather to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us. His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it. That is why we are told: Enlarge your desires, do not bear the yoke with unbelievers.

The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive that gift, which is very great indeed. No eye has seen it; it has no color. No ear has heard it; it has no sound. It has not entered man’s heart; man’s heart must enter into it. 

In this faith, hope and love we pray always with unwearied desire. However, at set times and seasons we also pray to God in words, so that by these signs we may instruct ourselves and mark the progress we have made in our desire, and spur ourselves on to deepen it. The more fervent the desire, the more worthy will be its fruit. When the Apostle tells us: Pray without ceasing, he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him who alone is able to give it.

RESPONSORY Jeremiah 29:13, 12, 11

You will seek me, and when you seek with your whole heart, you will find me.
– You will pray to me, and I will listen to you.

I know the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for misfortune, plans that will give you a future full of hope.
– You will pray to me, and I will listen to you.

It is helpful, especially to those beginning the practice of prayer, to review the Eight Steps to Praying a Passage of Scripture. Click This Link

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My plans for you are so much greater

Friday, 18 October 2013

Will There Be Found Any Faith..."In This Age?"

Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them? 
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. 
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Luke 18:1-8

This Text is part of the gospel reading for the 20th. Sunday, year "C". Through the image of a parable, Jesus gives us another lesson on prayer, “… to pray always without becoming weary.” The question is never, will God hear my prayer, rather, when ( speedily ) and how ( justly ).

I think it would be true to say, that everyone has given up on prayer a some time or other; either because it seems to be lost in time, or we fail to recognize and understand how it has been answered. In Mtt. 6:8, in the instruction on the "Our Father", Jesus reminds that the Father knows what we need, even before we ask. We start off in prayer with what we think is our need and how soon we need it. This is good to to get prayer going. It is here that "faith" becomes all important. Faith dismisses the question of will God hear and answer my prayer, and turns it to a question of discernment, how is my prayer being answer?

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.… 1 John 5:13-15
"If we ask ... according to his will ..." This is the justice we are seeking. The word justice means to be in line with what is true and right. To justify is to make two separate parts line up precisely, so that they fit together perfectly.

Now this understanding of prayer might lead some to ask, why make petition in prayer to God at all? Since God already knows what is to be done, why pray? Here of course we are not talking about "praying to win the lottery, or the hockey game. 

We pray, not to change God's mind, rather to change our's. We bring our small and limited grasp of the situation to prayer, so that it might be fulfilled, that is, filled up, expanded in ways far beyond what we would have imagined. When the man, who was born blind, reached out to Jesus to make him able to see, Jesus opened his eyes, not simply for him to have physical sight, but to see more deeply into the mystery of God's plan for his blindness, for his healing and for his new purpose in life.
As Jesus passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.… John 9:1
Clearly, the disciples were incorrect in assuming this man's blindness was punishment for sin. Blindness can be a result of the imperfection of the natural order. Modern medicine has discovered ways to intervene in such conditions and in some cases restore sight. No doubt grace can be a part of such a process. People of faith recognize this and praise God for such giftedness in man. But if praying for healing does not experience the recovery of sight, does this mean the prayers are rejected?  No, something greater is at work and we must continue in prayer to discover what. No prayer, made in faith will be rejected. Knowing this, first brings peace to our hearts in our situation. Now this "prayer of faith", sets out to lead us ever deeper into the mystery of God's greater plan for us, and how this situation will bring glory to God and fulfillment far beyond all our imagining. 

The Christian Life rest on the foundation of prayer.
Prayer rests on the foundation of Faith.
When the Lord comes to answer our prayer, 
how will we know,
how will we see him, 
unless through the "eyes of faith"?
The Prayer of Faith will not fall silent.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Prepare Yourself for an Ordeal

Sirach, chapter 2: 1-18 

You that fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost. You that fear the LORD, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. Consider the generations long past and see: has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken? has anyone called upon him and been ignored? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; forgives sins and saves in time of trouble.

Woe to timid hearts and drooping hands, to the sinner who walks a double path!
Woe to the faint of heart! For they do not trust, and therefore have no shelter!
Woe to you that have lost hope! what will you do at the Lord’s visitation?

Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words; those who love him keep his ways.
Those who fear the Lord seek to please him; those who love him are filled with his law.
Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts and humble themselves before him.

Let us fall into the hands of the Lord and not into the hands of mortals,
For equal to his majesty is his mercy; and equal to his name are his works.
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It is important that we have a clear understanding of nature and purpose of prayer. Prayer is not an isolated, personal thing that we like to take up when convenient, not unlike a hobby. Rather, prayer is an essential, component part of the wider Christian spiritual life. Prayer is a school, where we study under the Master's instruction, how to live a full and rich and productive Christian Life.

It is in prayer that:

  • we meet Christ through a personal encounter. We forsake all other possible directions for our lives, choosing to make Jesus' way, our way, and the direction our life will take.
  • we hear his voice speaking to us, we learn directly and personally from the Master, what our unique calling will be.
  • the scriptures are opened up to us, and we see the bigger picture, understanding that we are part of the master plan of salvation for all the world.
  • we learn that there is a highly intelligent agent opposing God's plans. We learn how evil works, using lies to deceive good people of good intention; twisting them into actual opponents against God's purposes. 
  • we are healed of our "wounds of sin", and give fresh hearts to engage in the struggle of good over evil.
  • we are given glimpses of the glory that waits all God's faithful.
Make no mistake, "when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials." Were we to choose to enter into the Lord's service and fail to embrace the practice of prayer, we would quickly become little more than cannon fodder in the battle with the forces of darkness. Yet, this should not cause us to hesitate, for after all, what other choice is there? St. Paul give this instruction: Ephesians 6:14

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. 
Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. 

Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. 
  • So stand fast with your loins girded in truth
  • clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, 
  • and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace
  • In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 
  • And take the helmet of salvation 
  • and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:10

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Pots Made of Clay

For God, who said,
“Light shall shine out of darkness,”
is the One who has shone in our hearts
to give the Light of the knowledge 
of the glory of God
in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels,
so that the surpassing greatness of the power
 will be of God and not from ourselves;
we are afflicted in every way, 
but not crushed;
perplexed, but not despairing;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus also 
                                               may be manifested in our body. 2 Cor.4:7 

Those beginning the practice of prayer, or those who may be returning to prayer after having given it up for a time, often are met with an experience of uplifting peace and support. One is drawn to prayer, making time for prayer is a priority, scripture is alive and understandable, and each prayer time is rewarding. 

But this can change and all efforts to regain what seems to be fading, has little effect. St. Ignatius describes this as the movement of grace between consolation and desolation. The reasons for causing this movement are the subject for discernment. But we must never loose touch with the fact that consolation is not the cause/effect result of our doing. It is gift, grace. We are merely the humble vessel into  which has been place such royal blessings. We are clay pots, even cracked pots to be sure, but when the Lord takes hold of us and places his gifts of grace-filled prayer within us, we become vessels of treasure.

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius explains this movement this way:

There are three principal reasons why we find ourselves desolate.

  • The first is, because of our being tepid, lazy or negligent in our spiritual exercises; and so through our faults, spiritual consolation withdraws from us.
  • The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we let ourselves out in His service and praise without such great pay of consolation and great graces.
  • The third, to give us true acquaintance and knowledge, that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to get or keep great devotion, intense love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and that we may not build a nest in a thing not ours, raising our intellect into some pride or vainglory, attributing to us devotion or the other things of the spiritual consolation.

Here are some points to consider as you reflect upon your own prayer experience, especially if that experience has been one of struggle and dryness.

  • In times of struggle, put away any thought that God has forsaken you, or that your previous experience of prayer, rich in positive reward, was all illusion on your part. That is the voice of deception.
  • Examine your approach to prayer of late. 
  • Time for prayer is loosing out in the competition for space.
  • Less attention to preparation, i.e. where to pray, when to pray, choosing passages for prayer.
  • Noisy mind, with many distraction. 
  • Decline in prayer review, discerning the voice and message of prayer.
  • What is the quality of my trust and the sincerity of my devotion? What is my tolerance for challenge, do I give up easily?
  • Remember, my part is generosity of heart, the Lord's generosity of grace.
  • The waning of expectation, forgetting that prayer is gift.
  • Impatience, taking control, micro managing prayer's direction.
  • Prayer is surrender into the hands of the potter, we are the clay.
  • Forgetting the first principle: "Speak Lord, your servant is listening". 

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