Spiritual Discipline

The early Christian community that has a pretty good idea what’s going to happen. They have begun to meet with resistance as their faith is perceived as a threat to the world around them. The persecution they face is real and to be or not to be a Christian is a life or death decision. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Peter wants to prepare them for the “fiery ordeal” which has begun and which will continue to mark their lives in faith.

There is a threat to the community of faith.  How do we prepare for battle?

Our preparation begins with Spiritual discipline. Spiritual discipline begins with prayer. Daily prayer. Prayer without ceasing. Prayer is as basic to a life of faith as breathing. A life of prayer helps us prepare for the unexpected.

A discipline of daily prayer is essential to a life of faith. Too often we wait for a crisis to occur before we look to God. Too often our prayers have more the character of asking God to help us out of a mess that may have been prevented through prayer. We save up our joys and concerns like rubber stamps and cash them all in when it becomes too much to bear.

The best way that we’ve found to get out of the cycle is through prayer. As we open ourselves up to God, as we acknowledge God’s presence at the center of our lives together, things fall into place and we are able to again communicate constructively. This is what is special about our relationship, what binds us together as one. Prayer allows us to experience an intimacy we could never achieve on our own.

How do we discipline ourselves for prayer? There are many answers to this question, as many as there are individuals to pray. Discipline takes many forms; it’s not just beating yourself up when you fail to do something. In fact, this form of self-punishment often works against the discipline of prayer. Prayer is an opening up of one’s self before God, not a beating down of the self. Prayer is receiving the forgiveness of God, not a piling on of guilt.

Each person will discover his/her own style of discipline for daily prayer. I have found that it helps me to discuss my prayer life with a few close friends in a weekly devotional group. This group allows us all to reflect honestly about our relationship to God, our struggles through the week and continue to renew our spiritual disciplines. Others find it more helpful to have one person, a kind of “spiritual director” with whom they reflect on their prayer life and hold themselves accountable. Though prayer is often considered a private experience with God, it is helpful to talk about with others both to hold yourself accountable and to avoid beating yourself up when you don’t pray as much as you think you should.

Though prayer is a highly personal experience; it is also the foundation for our community of faith. Our prayers are guided by the witness of Scripture. Through Scripture, the Holy Spirit gives us the words to speak and urges us forward towards greater communion with God and each other.

In Scripture we find prayers that address a number of contexts. Abraham and Sarah pray for a son. Cain prays for mercy. The disciples pray for boldness. Habakkuk prays for deliverance. Moses prays that he might see the promise land. Prayers are the voice in which we lift our concerns to God, our concerns for personal well-being, for those within the community of faith and for others. In Christ, we pray for the whole world.

Scripture guides our prayer life, giving us the words to speak and moving us towards greater union. Jesus taught his disciples a prayer to say together and also gave them a model of intensely personal prayer. God is addressed as “Abba”; “Father”; not as a remote being far removed from human concerns. Ask and you shall receive. Continue to ask. Pray without ceasing.

In Christ, our relationship to God has been restored. The joy of a renewed relationship is ours for the asking. In prayer we open ourselves up to receive God’s forgiveness and new life in faith. Prayer is the means by which we prepare for the unexpected. Prayer is the spiritual discipline that gives shape to our faith, that binds us in an intimate relationship with God and each other. Prayer is our joyful response to God’s loving action in Jesus Christ.

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