Getting down to prayer
By Patricial Birkett
January 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The monthly prayer suggestions from Essentials (see below) always comes with a teaching and this month's is on the very important subject of the difficulty almost all of us find in actually getting down to prayer. I'm forwarding it to you, not only because I know that some of you don't get it direct, but also because I wanted to add my two cents worth on that vital subject.

The Essentials letter says that the number one problem is guilt and gives some most useful suggestions for dealing with it. I've found myself, however, that even when I've dealt with that barrier, there is usually still a hindrance in the way, and I was very fortunate in learning about it many years ago shortly after I had come to Christ, so I'd like to share it with you all.

My teacher was one of the Keswick speakers whom I heard on tape. I have unfortunately forgotten his name and don't remember anything that he said, except for the very valuable info on what he called "the battle of the threshhold."

1. I found it really useful to have a name for the problem, and to know that it was a recognized difficulty that most Christians have to deal with, and not just my personal failure.

2. It was a major discovery for me to realize that it is a threshold problem and that once one forces oneself and gets past the threshold, the battle is usually won and one can pray quite easily. When I knew that, I was no longer intimidated by the struggle. I knew how to win it and that it was really just a matter of refusing to give in to the reluctance to pray and pressing on regardless.

3. I discovered that the problem was not due to some deficiency in myself - except, of course, that one does have to deal with the guilt problem when necessary. It is due to enemy action. As someone has said,

    Satan trembles when he sees
    the weakest Christian on his [her] knees.
He knows that prayer is the place of power for defeating his plans, so of course he does his utmost to oppose us when we begin to pray, but once you have come into God's presence, he gives up. The battle of the threshold is really just a skirmish - an important one - in the great war in which Christians are always engaged and it is vital that we learn how to win it.

4. This ties in to another important lesson that I have learned and it is that it is a mistake to think that our service to God is the most important thing for Christians. The angels were created to be servants (Hebrews 1:14), so perhaps serving is the most important thing for them, but human beings were created to become God's children. For them, serving is important but secondary. A Christian's primary responsibility is to cultivate an intimate relationship with God. All service follows from that. And of course, our relationship with God, like any relationship, can only be cultivated by contact and communication, which is totally dependent on prayer. So to let ourselves be frustrated in prayer is to fail in what God created us for. We simply cannot allow that. St. Richard of Chichester's Prayer puts things in the right order:

    Day by day,
    Dear Lord of Thee three things I pray:
    To see Thee more clearly,
    Love Thee more dearly,
    Follow Thee more nearly,
    Day by day.
5. Cultivating helpful habits is also useful in winning the battle of the threshold, e.g. make regular and definite daily appointments for meeting with God in prayer. Try to have a particular time and place for the meeting and be even more faithful about keeping the appointment than you are about keeping appointments with people. The place should be private and the time long enough so that you are not rushed. The best time, if you can manage it, is usually first thing in the morning. This may mean getting to bed quite a bit earlier than you habitually do, so that you can get up earlier. That can be a significant discipline. If this isn't possible, then you have to find another time that is right for you. Don't let the enemy deceive you into thinking that you have no time. If we have none, we must make some.

6. Another aid, is creating a little ritual or signal for prayer time that helps your mind subconsciously know that it must get into gear for prayer. Each person can make it whatever they find best. Some people begin by crossing themselves and saying the Our Father - I usually use a little hum, which I can sing silently, if necessary. It is a 3-verse dialogue with God that goes like this:

    God:      Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

                 I am the Lord that healeth thee (Exodus 15:26)

    I:          In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust (Psalm 71:1)

I change the second verse sometimes, according to my needs and instead of "healeth" sing "leadeth," "guideth," "keepeth," "guardeth," "loveth" or any other biblically correct verb. If I need one that is two syllables, I just drop the archaic ending and sing "pardons," "fights for," or whatever. Each verse is repeated 3 times, so It takes a little while to sing this preparatory exchange and I find that by the time I have finished it, I am all set to go straight into prayer.

7. One last lesson that I have learned is that what is known as the remote preparation is just as important as the immediate preparation for prayer. It is a matter of what Brother Lawrence called "practising the presence of God." This is just trying to be constantly aware of God's presence with you at all times, connecting with Him frequently all through the day, including Him in everything you are doing and sending Him little dart prayers of praise and thanksgiving (in all circumstances, even the ones you don't enjoy), petition and intercession whenever you can. It takes a bit of practice at first, but it is surprising how quickly this habit can be formed and how precious the constant intimate internal contact with the Lord becomes. Since it keeps you very close to God, you don't have very far to go to get back to Him when your special prayer time comes and that makes the battle of the threshold much easier.

Anyone who would like some additional tips, or what Bob Sorge calls "secrets of the secret place," might like to read his book about them, which contains a wealth of most valuable ones. In case you no longer have the bibliography that you each got when you joined our prayer team, here are the relevant particulars that would allow you to order it:

Bob Sorge: Secrets of the Secret Place. Keys to Igniting Your Personal Time with God. (Lee’s Summit, Missouri: Oasis House, 2001. ISBN 0-9704791-0-7). In this inspiring and very practical book, Bob Sorge has, as he tells us, taken the risk of “sharing some of the most intimate and cherished truths the Lord has given me.” 217 pages.

From the January 6, 2005 Essentials E-mail Prayer Alert:

"Why does it seem hard to pray at times? If I'm honest, sometimes I don't really want to. Why??" Ever asked yourself these questions? We've read all sorts of books on prayer. We've been to some prayer meetings. We believe in the power of prayer to change lives and, perhaps, even the course and destiny of our denomination. We've encouraged our rector to consider the need for a first Friday prayer meeting to intercede for the Anglican church, and we even get this regular prayer e-mail! We do it all. All, that is, except pray regularly!

Why is the activity of prayer so much harder than believing in the importance of prayer? Why can I participate in corporate prayer more easily than praying on my own?

My personal experience is that the number one hindrance to the activity of prayer is guilt. Because of some sin or burden that we have not dealt with properly, we are uncomfortable in the presence of God. In the early pages of Genesis, we see the origins of this dynamic in Adam's response. He begins with perfect communion with God, an intimate relationship of complete trust, innocence and vulnerability, Then Satan enters the scene, bringing into question everything God has spoken, and leads humanity’s first parents into willful disobedience. What now is their response to their wonderful Creator?

Gone is the thrill of deep intimacy with God. Gone are the heartfelt peace and the sense of absolute security that had been the foundation of their walk with the Lord. Gone is the wonderful feeling of perfect cleanness, being completely at ease in God's presence; indeed, anticipating His coming to the garden with joy. All gone in a flash of rebellion and disobedience. And what is there instead? Guilt, Fear and Self-awareness. Adam and Eve are overwhelmed by the new ravages of sin, never before experienced. They know they've blown it, and yet it's too late to undo what they've done.

At the height of this tidal wave of such negative feelings, they hear God coming. "Oh, no! What’ll we do? Quick! Hide behind these trees! Maybe He won't find us!" How pathetic! How futile! How like me! The presence in my life of unconfessed sin unleashes a torrent of condemnation, guilt, and great disappointment in myself. It is, perhaps, not the shock to our emotional system that it must have been for Adam and Eve simply because we've battled with it all our lives. But the results are the same - we try to hide from God! We are so uncomfortable in God's presence that, although we may continue with religious activity outwardly, personal prayer is almost impossible. Guilt robs us of our intimate relationship with God as surely as it robbed Adam and Eve of theirs. Sometimes the "robbery" has been more of an embezzlement than an outright hold-up. The process has been so subtle we've not noticed what little time we are actually spending alone in the presence of God.

But now that we've seen it, our theology knows what do, right? Ask God for forgiveness, drop the burden of guilt, and get on with life in the Kingdom. Well, often it's not quite that easy. The principle is accurate, but the application may be difficult to obtain. It's not enough to simply have "the forgiveness of sins" as a part of our foundational belief structure or our Sunday morning liturgy. There is also the need of “revelation” - the Holy Spirit supernaturally revealing His Truth directly to our hearts. In this case it is the Truth of the power of the Blood of Christ that sets us free from the paralysis of guilt and self-condemnation.

I must come to see that the Blood that was shed by the sacrificial Lamb of God was sufficient, even for my sins. The New Testament is filled with verses declaring this Truth, but until I can make it personal, until my heart is convinced by the revelation of the Spirit that God is satisfied and that the Accuser is silenced, my forgiveness will be legal, but not experiential. Guilt will still lurk in the shadows, planning its next assault.

Sometimes as I come to communion, I find it personally helpful to visualize myself holding a chalice containing the Blood that Jesus shed for me. I bring it into the Father’s presence and say, "Thank You, Father, that You are legally satisfied because of this Blood. Thank You that all my debts are paid. Thank You that You redeemed even me through the Cross of Jesus. Thank You that I am free from the destruction of guilt. Thank You that the Blood is enough!!"

Then I take the cup and turn toward the Accuser of the brethren, the Enemy of our soul and I say, "Because of the Blood that King Jesus shed for me, your power is broken in my life. I will no longer receive your accusations, taunting, mockery or condemnation! I will say with the psalmist, 'We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler's snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped (Psa. 124; 7). This Blood has broken all your snares! Alleluia, the Blood is enough!"

Lastly, I visualize myself carrying the cup over to a mirror where I can look myself right in the eye and I say to my reflection, "Because of this Blood, you are forgiven by the Father. Not through any merit of your own nor through any righteous acts of service to God – but simply because of the Blood. Worthiness is no longer an issue. Because God has forgiven you, I can and do forgive you, also!" Praise God, even for me to forgive myself, the Blood Is Enough!

When Guilt is given the deathblow, our spirit soars to enter communion with God once again. We delight to be in His presence, not unaware of our capacity to sin, but freed from the weight and shame, dancing before Him in child-like exuberance. Now we can be truly comfortable in His throne room, and find life and vitality in our prayer once again.

Patricia Birkett is Prayer Coordinator of Anglican Gathering of Ottawa