Imagine running a car in the same way we run our relationship with God in prayer: I suspect we’d end up waiting on the side of the road with an empty fuel tank much more than we care to confess.
In the free church tradition (where worship is not conducted according to prescribed liturgy) there is a trend towards scepticism in relation to spiritual disciplines and regular prayer time is concerned. We prefer our prayer to be spontaneous, even ‘continuous’, rather than prescribed according to time or form.
If we were prospecting for oil or gold, we would land upon a site and spend some time mining that place, ensuring we had explored it with enough energy and persistence to satisfy ourselves that there was no further fruit from that site before moving on. Even if a major strike were to be found, it would not be long before a search in another place was undertaken. Rather than wait for a site to be exhausted, the wise miner would do their best to ensure that there was continuity ahead.
We are more inclined to be tourists rather than pilgrims in our faith journey: racing across the landscape, looking for bits which immediately pique our interest. If something fails to connect immediately, we move on to the next place, sure that something better lies ahead. As a tourist, impulse access and availability are key. Given limited time, we choose the activities which give us immediate benefit for our tourist dollar. In prayer, the currency is time. With our desire for immediate results: unloading a burden, sharing a concern… we are caught up with the transitory matters, and the deeper relationship which is prayer is sacrificed.
There is no doubt that prayer born of passion and immediacy has value. But we need to recognise the value of structured and regular prayer also, nurturing our relationship with God and our spiritual journey in disciplined ways. In the same way that athletes are able to draw much more from their bodies through the discipline and constancy of their training – often involving repeated executions of the same drills and exercises – so a prayer life which includes such disciplined attention also has the capacity to spur us on to a deeper relationship with God and a spiritual journey more in tune with God’s presence throughout the day.
Ritual does not have to be dry. Discipline does not destroy freedom, but enhances it. A rich and nourishing prayer life finds spontaneity and discipline nurturing each other. For God is ever waiting to commune with us.
July 10, 2005