There is an old story out of France, from around the early 1900s. It seems a young man had begun his new job in a factory where the work was known to be quite physically demanding. The young man, believing himself to be the equal of any man in the factory, did his best to maintain the same level of productivity on his first day as some of the most senior workers in the facility.
When he showed up the next morning, after only one day on the job, he could barely move. The older, more experienced workers were just as productive that next day as they always were. They were not affected by the previous days strenuous output. But the young man had to be assigned to paperwork and a desk job for the next two days. When the foreman was approached by one of the experienced workers inquiring about what was wrong with the new guy, the old foreman just said: “It’s just the trade working its way into him.”
We don’t often think of the act of prayer as a trade, a vocation that we have been individually called to, something, like so many of our worldly occupations, that we would be willing to throw ourselves into with all our heart. However, the truth is that prayer is the only universal vocation—we are all called to it. And like with our greatest aspirations for our worldly occupations, we must learn to put our whole heart into prayer.
“With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! I will keep thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:145)
There are a number of very meaningful and inspiring vocations in life. Maybe there are even some we may have dreamed of ourselves when we were younger. For these types of vocations, say professional athlete, or a professional musician, or a highly skilled surgeon, you simply cannot become any of these unless you are willing to study and practice them every day.
Many people enjoy writing, and even if it is not their full-time occupation, there is one consistent theme in all the advice you will hear about how to be a professional writer—you must write every day. If you want to be a great golfer, you need to make time to do it every day. If you want to be a professional singer or musician, you must practice every day, you literally need to “let the trade get into you.” No matter what it is that we may aspire to be really good at, we know we must engage in that activity every single day.
The same is true for prayer. We have to learn not only to pray continuously. We must also begin to think of prayer as our most important vocation. Prayer is the most important thing we do in this life that literally has eternal implications, eternal implications because prayer puts us into eternity.
“Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…” (Ephesians 6:18).
Someone once said that “80% of success is just showing up.” There is great wisdom in that, but it begs the question. If 80% is showing up, what is the other 20%? The truth is, it is actually being totally there once you show up, and no one should minimize the challenge in being fully present to the task at hand. It can be very difficult to remain totally focused on a single activity.
So yes, we need to make space for prayer in our day; we need to show up. That means a defined time, a defined place, having the reading material we may want to use, setting the mood by tuning out all the noise around us, (to the extent that we can) and maybe lowering the lights in the room. But just sitting there (80%), or even reading our devotional, is not prayer. Prayer is about being there, being wholly present to the Lord while we are in prayer.
It is sometimes helpful to have a model we can work from, or at least a brief plan for our time. Here is a simple model for a 30-minute prayer session that might help us both show up and be there. First, right up front, lay out all the things that are weighing on your mind: your health, your kids, your parents, your job, money problems, maybe it’s that one person in your life who continually seems to bug you, (oh come on, we all have one, some have many). Just place all this stuff at the feet of the Lord–literally see yourself placing these items on the dirt at His feet.
“Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
Let the Lord know that these are the items you are concerned about. If it helps, write them all down beforehand on a piece of paper and put the paper face down on the ground before you start to pray. Better yet, set it on fire in an ash tray, and then stop worrying about it (obviously make sure the fire goes out).
Then, for the next ten minutes or so, just quiet your mind; really make the effort to release everything that comes into your mind as a distraction. You might just continue to repeat, “The Lord is taking care of that.”
Then, for the next 10 minutes, just try to be totally present to the Lord and believe that He is totally present to you. He is watching you, He is with you; be present and fully aware that He is there. Try to just rest in that experience for 10 minutes. If you need to speak, just continue to repeat to yourself, “Jesus is here.” If you need an image to use as an aid, remember the scene from the Last Supper where John the Beloved Apostle rested his head on Jesus’ bosom, literally laying his head on the Lord’s chest. Just be there fully present to Him.
It is important to remember to remove yourself from your immediate surroundings and instead be with the Lord where you are, be with Him where He is. Remember, the Lord resides in eternal light and glory.
“O Lord, I love the habitation of thy house, and the place where thy glory dwells.” (Psalm 26:8)
Just ask the Lord to draw you close to him, don’t try to create a scene for yourself in this case, just let Him know you want to be where He is and let Him draw you into His presence.
There is no question daily prayer takes real effort. Showing up is indeed 80% of the battle. We need to make the time, plan it, find a place, get there and not allow anything else to be more important to us than this activity. Again, prayer is the only eternal activity we will be involved with today, it is the one thing we can do that will allow us to live where Christ lives.
But once we are there, we need to work even harder to be really present. If we make the effort to practice this process of being present it will absolutely improve our prayer life. If it is practiced daily, even if only for a short period each day, we will dramatically increase our chances of allowing, “The trade to get into us.” We might even become professionals, like Jesus, who, while residing in Eternal Glory, is clearly the MVP of prayer.
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus[b] offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.” (Hebrews 5:7)
Just one last point about our young factory worker and his sore muscles. Did you know there actually is a muscle in the human body called the prayer muscle? It’s the truth; you can look it up. It is called the Sternocleidomastoid. Maybe some of our nurses or doctors already knew that. It is the muscle in the human neck that allows us to bow our heads, you know, like when we pray. Let us pray that we might all get a real pain in the neck from its overuse.
Copyright © 2019 by Mark Danis
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