I recently spent a little time reflecting on my prayer life. That topic may not sound exciting to some of you, but, for me, it is just as much a staple as meat and potatoes. (No offense intended, vegetarian friends.) Anyway, I took a few minutes to notice how my prayers have changed over the years. So far, I can identify three distinct seasons. I won’t be surprised if I discover a fourth before I go Home.
Season One: Confess/Bless
Though I was only dully aware of the depth of my sins when I was young, I spent much of my first season confessing. That season started in childhood and continued well into my late twenties or early thirties. I was constantly reminded at the time that I was broken by sin. There were sins I confessed with true repentance, meaning that I stopped doing them; other sins I confessed again and again because I kept going back to them.
It was near the end of my first season that I got fed up with my hypocrisy in some areas and cried out, “Lord, please do whatever you must do to give me the victory I have lacked.” He answered that prayer…my life started falling apart. It was my first experience at having Him shake everything in me that could be shaken. It was also exactly what I needed to bring me (literally) to my knees so that I could experience His life in me.
Along with constantly confessing, Season One was filled with asking God to bless me and those important to me. Much of that was the immature hope that He would bless me with the things I wanted. Sometimes He did just that. At other times, He taught me that He has higher purposes than I do and that “No” can be the most positive answer I receive from Him.
Season One, as I now understand, was largely about dealing with the barriers between me and God. I was just getting to know Him. There were some powerful and intimate times in those years, but I can’t now say that I really knew Him very well.
Season Two: DISCIPLINE/joy
If you haven’t noticed, my second season was one of big discipline and little joy. That season lasted from my thirties through my mid-fifties or a little later. At the beginning of the season, I went through a training course designed to help a person start praying an hour a day using the Lord’s Prayer as the outline. During those years, I would often walk through the fields and along the canal banks behind our house and pray point by point through the model prayer that Jesus taught: “Our Father, Who are in heaven…” Each point in Jesus’ model launched me into a plethora of sub-points, helping me worship, confess and intercede. I prayed for my family and for missionaries around the world. I prayed for people who need to know Jesus. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed.
I look back on this season, grateful for the discipline I learned. Cathy and I have many conversations about the unique way God designed each of us. She is far more a “task/structured” personality, while I am more a “people/unstructured.” We have discovered that I need discipline to help me get some structure in my life, thereby training me and setting me free for service to God and others. That same level of external discipline which works so well for me completely stifles her relationship with God. It chokes her spiritually and she has had to learn how to walk free from it.
What I lacked in my second season was joy. I had the small joys of accomplishing something important, but they took away from the large joys of really getting to know God as a person. I’m so thankful that I was given a third season!
Season Three: Relational Intimacy
My third season started just a few years ago. A variety of things were happening as I aged. One of them was the growing confidence I had in God. I started coming to know Him as who He is…God in three persons! Romans 8:15 is a wonderful word picture of our what it’s like to know God as our Father. Better words describe the tenderness He wants in that relationship. Read the verse in various translations and you just might become comfortable calling Him “Abba” or “Papa” or “Daddy.” Jesus called Him by such a familiar term.
Jesus Himself taught in John 14:19 that the day would come when the world would no longer see Him. His followers, though would continue to “see” him through the power of the Holy Spirit. I have long been fascinated by Paul’s distinction between the “Holy Spirit” in Acts 16:6 and the “spirit of Jesus” in Acts 16:7. Clearly, He related to them differently. The more I know God, the more I am learning something of the difference between Father, Son and Holy Spirit in my prayer life. He is still One God, but He clearly reveals Himself as one of the three in different situations.
This third season has been the time when I finally got consistent at keeping a prayer journal. With it, I am beginning to notice more of the nuances of my own personality and what causes me to pull away from Him. I am also learning his faithfulness in every circumstance. Finally, this is the season in which some of the old, classical writings on prayer are beginning to make sense to me.
I won’t spend time speculating if I will have one more seasonal shift…that is up to God. If I do, I think it will be more and more focused on “Thy kingdom come,” both on the macro and micro levels. It’s easy to see that our world is in a mess. God is calling intercessors into a full-scale “air war”, softening up targets for the “ground war” of gospel presentation to change lives. The mess isn’t just “over there”, though. It’s very near, often in those to whom I am closest.
The human idea of “retirement” isn’t really in the Bible. While I expect to retire from my active role as a pastor, I don’t plan to fully quit until the End. Whether that end will include an entirely new prayer season, only God knows. I’m along for the adventure and enjoy it more every year!
I took this time today to reflect back on some of my own journey because prayer will be center target as we continue our Sermon on the Mount study, “From here to where?” this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. I’m quite excited to talk about prayer with those who attend our services and hope you can be there. If you can’t join us, catch the podcast!