Prayer has to be one of the most challenging topics to discuss. We all either seem to believe that we know a lot about prayer, or we’re not honest enough to admit that we don’t know that much at all. As we press into this topic, I believe a lot of us will discover that we haven’t thought it through. Sure, we might pray from time to time, even more consistently for some of us. But as we reflect deeply, will we be able to admit if we aren’t altogether confident in what we're doing? Or if we don't possess much rationale in support of it?
Why do we fight so hard to defend that we know what prayer is all about? Or to hide the fact that we don’t know much at all? Could it be that we feel guilty for our ignorance? After all, what could be more natural than prayer? Isn’t prayer, “just talking to God?” "What kind of a Christian doesn’t know how to talk to God?" Maybe we have a consistent schedule where we sit down and pray for our health, our family, and our friends. Perhaps our morning routine consists of asking God to watch over us and guide our steps. But, is this prayer? Sure, it’s a part of it, but the Bible is full of different types of prayer! Scripture talks about prayer as request and petition, declaration, thanksgiving, and there seems to be plenty of material that suggests a type of warfare that takes place in our prayer. Then we have the challenge of developing an answer to the question of why God doesn’t always answer our prayers. When we start getting into the topic at these depths, even the most mature prayer warrior begins to feel somewhat ill-equipped for the conversation. What happens when we don’t know what to pray? Or if we pray the wrong thing? We can confess that we pray often, but I think we have to admit that prayer isn’t as important to us, or the Church as a whole as it use to be. Certainly, it is to specific groups, but we often criticize them for their eccentricities. So, do they have it wrong? Maybe prayer shouldn’t be such a priority in our lives? Or perhaps we need to embrace some aspects of the faith that we aren’t altogether comfortable?
Growing up, I was exposed to some of the most significant moves of God that our nation, as seen in the past 30 years. When I was very small, my parents would regularly attend the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, Florida. If you aren’t familiar with this movement, it was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that began on Father’s Day of 1995 at Brownsville Assemblies of God. For some, you may connect with me after I share this; for others, you have experienced a disconnect. It all depends on your background and what you were told or experienced firsthand. For me, I was very young, about 4 or 5 when we were attending consistently. I never wanted to stay in the nursery area, so I usually ended up in the main auditorium. Even though I was very young, I vividly remember experiencing something genuinely dynamic. My purpose in sharing this is not to offer my opinion on the movement as a whole. I will say that I believe that the essence of the revival was pure and ordained by God. I can’t say the same about all that came as a result and some of the movements that were founded because of the revival. My purpose in sharing this is to express how this particular moment in time shape my life. My family was radically changed as a result of what we had experienced here. As I grew up, I found my self longing for the more profound things of God and seeking a very personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. This, of course, was not always received well by leaders and peers, but it made me very dissatisfied with “business as usual” in the Church. The only problem was, I didn’t have a lot of couching on what to do with this desire. Lack of practical training led me to become very cynical and critical of others and their pursuit of God. I felt that they were not leaning into a lifestyle of prayer like I thought they should, nor like I had experienced growing up. It wasn’t until I matured a little, made myself accountable to leadership, and pursued a formal education in seminary that I realized the error of my ways. What I began to reflect on ways that I could quickly tell you what I thought was wrong about your expression of faith, but I couldn’t articulate what you needed to do differently. I also realized that I was being critical of others for not doing what I was not even doing myself. I had experienced a move of God that caused me to recognize the need for sincere and consistent prayer, but I had not learned, or even beer taught, what that looked like in practical terms.
The prevailing question that haunted me was, “How do I pray?” But, I couldn’t ask that question, because I was a self-professed expert on all things spiritual. So I pressed onward, equipped with a critical spirit, guilt, and a longing for something that I did not know how to pursue. Now, looking back, I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I don’t even claim to be right about the ones I do have. But, what I can provide is my experience and the lessons that I’ve learned the hard way. For me, asking the question, “What is prayer?” and “How do I pray?” were far too crippling to my ego. It took many experiences of embarrassment, disappointment, sleepless nights, and in-depth study before I was broken enough to ask that question for myself. My goal in this series is to answer the question before you even have to ask it, at least from my perspective. I’ll never forget one of the most crucial turning points in my pursuit of prayer. I was sitting in a congregation as my dad delivered a teaching on the topic of prayer. He opened his lesson with this statement, “The more I learn about prayer, the more I realize how little I actually know about it.” Or something to that effect. I looked up to my dad and his understanding of Scripture. But, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how he could discredit himself like that. A few years later, my dad passed away, which began one of the most challenging struggles of my entire life. As I learned to unlearn all that I thought I knew about prayer, I realized what he meant. I had the idea that prayer was a skill, something to be learned and perfected. I like skills because the only thing keeping me from becoming an expert is myself. If I’m willing to put in the time, the effort, and acquire the right tools, I can excel at anything. I was very comfortable with prayer from this perspective.
What I am not as fond of is art. There is a certain level of skill that can be honed in canvas painting, but there must also be a creative edge. Art is different than skill because it originates from a much different place in the artist. With a skill, I can build, develop, or draft an excellent product with little to no emotional investment. But, once I step into the place of an artist, my work derives from an interwoven connection of my experiences, emotions, and spiritual condition. If you have ever been to an art museum, you may encounter a piece that causes you to question if the artist has any technical skill at all. But that isn’t really how art is considered. When I realized the idea that prayer was not a skill and embraced it as a form of art, I realized what my dad meant. Artists don’t become better artists; they become better at expressing themselves through their art. In fact, It could even be said that the artist’s work is not the art, but the art is the artist themselves. This isn’t a reality that can be taught; it must be experienced. When we put more of ourselves into our prayer, we learn to experience God at a much deeper and personal level. What I have come to realize is that prayer is not something that I do, its something that I am. All of this and more will be the focus of this series. Art of Prayer is about making a lifestyle of prayer accessible and practical; Art of Prayer is my ability to give God my fullest expression of self.
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