A Praying Life
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Paul Miller

Paul Miller is director of seeJesus.net, a discipling mission that develops interactive Bible studies. He is the author of A Praying Life and Love Walked Among Us, both published by NavPress

Posted 6/10/09 at 11:17 AM | Paul Miller

Bending Your Heart to Your Father

Several months ago I was on a flight, sitting next to a drug rep for a major pharmaceutical company. I mentioned to her that from listening to people talk, I suspected that one-third of suburban American women were on antidepressants. The drug rep shook her head. "You're wrong. It's at least two-thirds."

Most of us simply want to get rid of anxiety. Some hunt for a magic pill that will relieve the stress. Others pursue therapy. While antidepressants and counseling have helped many people, including me, the search for a "happy pill" or "happy thoughts" will not stop our restless anxiety. It runs too deep.

Instead of fighting anxiety, we can use it as a springboard to bending our hearts to God. Instead of trying to suppress anxiety, manage it, or smother it with pleasure, we can turn our anxiety toward God. When we do that, we'll discover that we've slipped into continuous praying.

Here's an example of how anxiety creates an opening for prayer. When I was a kid, I didn't like answering the phone, possibly because I am not quick with words. I can get tongue-tied in new situations, and I used to have a stuttering problem. Jill would joke that she wanted to name one of our kids Lillian because the letter L was a particular problem for me. So was H. Saying "hello" could really set me back. Sometimes when the phone rings, I still feel a twinge of anxiety. As I reach to pick up the phone, I almost always pray a quick, wordless prayer. I just lean in the direction of God. My anxiety becomes a prayer.

The connection between anxiety and continuous praying goes back to Eden, where Adam and Eve were in unbroken fellowship with God and continuous prayer was normal. When they sought independence from God, they stopped walking with God in the cool of the day and their prayer link was broken.

What does an unused prayer link look like? Anxiety. Instead of connecting with God, our spirits fly around like severed power lines, destroying everything they touch. Anxiety wants to be God but lacks God's wisdom, power, or knowledge. A godlike stance without godlike character and ability is pure tension. Because anxiety is self-on-its-own, it tries to get control. It is unable to relax in the face of chaos. Once one problem is solved, the next in line steps up. The new one looms so large, we forget the last deliverance.

Oddly enough, it took God to show us how not to be godlike. Jesus was the first person who didn't seek independence. He wanted to be in continuous contact with his heavenly Father. In fact, he humbled himself to death on the cross, becoming anxious so we could be free from anxiety. Now the Spirit brings the humility of Jesus into our hearts. No longer do we have to be little gods, controlling everything. Instead, we cling to our Father in the face of chaos by continuously praying. Because we know we don't have control, we cry out for grace. Instead of flailing around, our praying spirits can bless everything we touch.

--This blog post is adapted from Paul Miller's latest book, A Praying Life. Watch for more posts from Paul on the topic of prayer.


Posted 6/10/09 at 11:16 AM | Paul Miller

Crying Abba -- Continuously

I was listening to the discussion at a staff meeting when our consultant said, "Paul is so quiet. He doesn't seem to be passionate about anything, except maybe the person of Jesus." I smiled, partly because it was funny and partly because on the inside I am like Barney Fife, the nervous deputy on the old Andy Griffith Show. My mind churns with ideas, and my mouth is eager to assist.

So why did I appear so calm? Because I was praying, quietly to myself, over and over again: Father, Father, Father. At other times I will pray the name of Jesus or the name Christ. Sometimes I find myself praying a short phrase, such as Come, Spirit.

This is not a mindless chant I practice in order to reach some higher spiritual plain. Just the opposite. I realize I'm on a low spiritual plain, and I am crying out for help like a little child who runs to his mother saying, "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy." My heart is hunting for its true home. David captured the feel of the praying soul in Psalm 63:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
My flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (verse 1)

Why am I quietly crying out for help? My tendency to interrupt in staff meetings is a "dry and weary land." When I feel my inner Barney Fife crying out for attention, I pray quietly, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Like Augustine, my heart is restless, and I need to find my rest in God. FULL POST

Posted 6/10/09 at 11:12 AM | Paul Miller

The Real You Learns to Pray

Jesus gives us a secret to real prayer when he invites us to come to him "weary and heavy laden." Jesus does not say, "Come to me all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest." No, Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28 NIV). The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with a wandering mind. Come messy.

What does it feel like to be weary? You have trouble concentrating. The problems of the day are like a claw in your brain. You feel pummeled by life.
What does "heavy laden" feel like? Same thing. You have so many problems you don't even know where to start. You can't do life on your own any more. Jesus wants you to come that way! Your weariness drives you to him.

Why is it so important to come "just as you are"? The real you has to meet the real God. He is a person. If you don't, then you are artificial and unreal, like the Pharisees. The only way to come to God is by taking off any spiritual mask.
So, instead of being frozen by your self-preoccupation, begin with what you are preoccupied about. Tell God where you are weary. If you don't begin with where you are, then "where you are" will sneak in the back door. Your mind will wander to where you are weary.

When we slow down to pray, we are often so busy and overwhelmed we often don't even know where our hearts are. We don't even know what troubles us. So oddly enough, you might have to worry before you pray. Then your prayers will make sense. They will be about your real life. Your heart could be, and often is, askew. But you have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn't come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. The very thing we try to get rid of-our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness-is what gets us in the front door! That's how the gospel works!

In bringing your real self to Jesus, you give him the opportunity to work on the real you, and you will slowly change. The kingdom will come. You'll end up less selfish.

The kingdom comes when Jesus becomes king of your life. But it has to be your life. You can't create a kingdom that doesn't exist, where you try to be better than you really are. Jesus calls that hypocrisy-putting on a mask to cover the real you.

Ironically, many attempts to teach people to pray encourage the creation of a split personality. They teach you to do it right. Instead of the real, messy you meeting God, you try to recreate yourself by becoming spiritual.
No wonder prayer is so unsatisfying.

So instead of being frozen by yourself, begin with yourself.. That's how the gospel works. God begins with you. It's a little scary because "you" is messed up.

God would much rather deal with the real thing. Jesus repeatedly said that he came for sinners, for messed up people who keep messing up (Luke 15:1,2). Come dirty. That is the heart of the gospel. That's why Jesus came--we are incapable of beginning with God.

The whole point of the gospel is that we incapable of beginning with God and his kingdom. Many Christians pray mechanically for God's kingdom (for missionaries, the church, and so on), but all the while their desire life is wrapped up in their own kingdom. You can't add God's kingdom as an overlay over your own.

If you get this simple truth, then, like Kim, you have taken your first wobbly step. In fact, you might want to take a wobbly step now, by pausing to pray, like a little child.

--This blog post is adapted from Paul Miller's latest book, A Praying Life. Watch for more posts from Paul on the topic of prayer.

Posted 6/10/09 at 11:01 AM | Paul Miller

The Secret to Prayer

On more than one occasion, Jesus tells his disciples to become like a little child.. How does becoming like a little child help us to pray? To answer, let's recall how difficult just a five minute prayer time is.

When we pray, our mind wanders off in a dozen different directions. The problems of the day push out our well-intentioned resolve to be spiritual. We give ourselves a spiritual kick in the pants and try again. Then the same thing happens all over again. Life crowds out prayer. We know that prayer isn't supposed to be like this so we give up in despair. We might as well get something done. Nothing confronts our selfishness and spiritual powerlessness like prayer.

Little children never get frozen by their selfishness. Like the disciples, they just come as they are, totally self-absorbed. They seldom get it right. As parents or friends, we know all that. In fact, we are delighted (most of the time!) to find out what is on their little hearts. We don't scold them for being self-absorbed or fearful. That is just who they are.

This isn't just a random observation about little children. This is the gospel, the welcoming heart of God. God cheers when we come to him with our wobbling, unsteady prayers.

We were uncertain whether Kim would ever be able to walk, so when she took her first step at three years old we didn't say, "Kim, that was all very well and good, but you are two years late. You have a lot of catching up to do, including long range walking, not to mention, running, skipping, and jumping."
What did we do? We screamed; we yelled; we jumped up and down. The family came rushing in to find out what had happened. Cameras came out, and Kim repeated her triumph. It was awesome.

Don't try to get the prayer right, just tell God where you are and what's on your mind. Little children never fix themselves up. They just come as they are, runny noses and all. Like the disciples, they just say what is on their mind.

We know that to become a Christian we shouldn't try to fix ourselves up, but when it comes to praying we completely forget that. We'll sing the old gospel hymn, "Just as I am," but when it comes to praying, we don't come just as we are. We try, like adults, to fix ourselves up. Private personal prayer is one of the last, great bastions of legalism. In order to pray like a child, you might need to unlearn the non-personal, non-real praying that you've been taught.

--This blog post is adapted from Paul Miller's latest book, A Praying Life. Check for more posts from Paul on the topic of prayer.