Personal Commitment: Month 11

March’s Review

For March my intention was to have a resurgence in saying a prayer and then doing the first good thing that came to mind, all to invite God’s spirit into my life. I also set a reminder on my phone, just to be sure that I didn’t forget what goal I was actually supposed to be working on.

And I did remember my goal, and I did try to implement it throughout the month, but if I’m being completely honest I was pretty halfhearted in my efforts. I believe that when the initial excitement of a new ritual fades, if I haven’t established a regular routine to carry me through the doldrums, it then becomes a monotony to keep carrying forward. That’s exactly what happened here.

In other words, I struggle in the department of making small, lasting changes to my life. And while I know I must continue to rely on grace for my heart to be truly changed, I also believe that a person is capable of carrying out one small improvement after another until they have become something greater than what they once were.

To be sure, I have been able to make some real, lasting changes in the past. This whole blog is one of those changes, and through it I have had the most regular scripture study of my life. But where that particular change was a success, many others have fallen to the wayside, including this one of a pray-and-do-something-good ritual.

April’s Commitment)

So I stopped to consider where the weak link is in that pray-and-do-something-good ritual, and I realized it was in the very first step. The fact is I have had some heartfelt, meaningful prayers in my life, but never as a regular practice. I am too often distracted, or self-conscious, or anxious about getting on to other things in my day.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. One of the foundational pillars of spiritual practice has always been prayer, and that is one area that I have been consistently lacking. So I will make this month’s commitment very simple: to pursue deep, meaningful prayer on a consistent basis. I still like the idea of my pray-and-do-something-good ritual, but I need to exercise myself in its first half before the whole thing can be complete.

Now in order to have more meaningful prayers there are two specific aspects of prayer that I will be working on. The first is praying out loud. Whenever I pray out loud I am more able to connect to the moment. I am very self-conscious about it, though, and so that it means taking the time to find a private place where I am unlikely to be overheard. This will be easier in some places than in others. While I am at work will be particularly tricky, and I’m going to have to spend some time figuring out a solution there.

The other aspect I will be focusing on is to remove the temptation to finish my prayers quickly so that I can get on to the rest of my day. I am in such a rush to take care of all my errands and hobbies that I forget that they will be performed better if I have taken the time to set my foundation first. I want to get into the habit of putting the rest of the world on hold when it is time to be with God, not the other way around.

On May 1st I’ll let you know how this journey is going. I will let you know how I did at finding secret closets to pray aloud, I will let you know how I did at setting aside the to-do lists that distract me from the moment, and I will let you know how my prayers are shaping up as a result.

Thank you.

The Epic Life- Daniel 6:6-7, 9-10

Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever.
All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.
Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the decree.
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.

COMMENTARY

Whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions
Yesterday we considered how David answered the call to live his great life. Today we’ll consider Daniel, who found his purpose under very different circumstances. Daniel watched as his people fell into the hands of the Babylonians, who were then defeated by the Medes. Thus he spent his time in the courts of two foreign nations, and he had to deal with laws and customs that defied his morals, such as this one prohibiting prayer to God.

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house, he kneeled upon his knees, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime
And what did Daniel do in this delicate circumstance? He ignored the king’s mandate and did what was right. He didn’t have to go to court and fight against the king’s presidents and princes, he didn’t make a public campaign, he didn’t raise armies to fight against the injustice. In a world that constantly shifted around him, Daniel’s great calling was to just remain constant. When all the world is breaking against us, the greatest of quests can be to simply hold still.
This same steadiness defines the key moments of Daniel’s epic life. He was steady in turning down the food that God had proclaimed to be unclean (Daniel 1:8). His cohorts Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego steadfastly rejected another king’s demands that they worship golden idols (Daniel 3:14). And here again Daniel steadily maintained his prayers in spite of a law that forbade it. Daniel and his friends had lost their nation but they would not give up their covenants. It would have been easy to. They could have said “our commitments were lost with Israel.” But they didn’t. It was their great life work just to steadily hold to their promises to God. In simply doing that they sent powerful ripples throughout all the kings’ courts they graced.

Calloused Hearts- Enos 1:2-5

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

COMMENTARY

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God
My soul hungered
I cried unto him in mighty prayer
All the day long did I cry unto him
I did raise my voice high that it reached the heavens

Look at what powerful earnestness is in these verses from Enos. Look at how much he wanted this absolution from sin. Look at how long he worked before finding the voice of the Lord.
And he put in this much effort because that was how much effort it took. He didn’t put in only an hour, because he hadn’t found God yet after an hour. And he didn’t call it quits after a half day, because he hadn’t found God in half a day. He kept with it until he found his way through. And I am inclined to believe that God was not simply waiting for some arbitrary amount of time to elapse before reaching out, but rather He was simply waiting on Enos to be ready to receive Him. God spoke after a day because after a day Enos was in the right place.
So, too, when my own heart feels covered in moss and disconnected from God. If I want that connection restored I have to ask myself whether I am willing to pursue that connection for as far as it has to be pursued. Am I willing to ask for what I need to ask? Am I willing to give up what I need to give up? Am I willing to become what I need to become? And if the answers to any of those is “not yet,” then am I willing to keep wrestling with it until I am willing?

Personal Promises- Moroni 10:4-5

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

COMMENTARY

Ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true
I was raised in a Christian household, and as such I took the reality of God’s existence and the truth of the gospel for granted. My parents and church leaders told me that all of these things were true, and I had no reason to doubt them.
When I read through this passage at the age of seven it gave me pause. Would God convince me of the truthfulness of His word when I already believed it? I reread the passage and figured “well, why not?” It wasn’t like the scripture said God would only manifest Himself to one sort of person or another. It simply said to ask and receive an answer.
And so I knelt down, prayed, and asked God if all these things I believed were really true. He answered me. Beautiful thoughts and feelings came into my heart and they were undeniable. It was the first time I really felt spoken to by God.
Of course in later years I would learn all too well how to be cynical and skeptical, and how to question the faith of my youth. This experience always grounded me, though. I felt that if God would speak to me when I already believed, surely He would speak to me again when I needed His reassurance…. And He did.

Personal Promises- Question

In a previous study I explored how God has the capacity to see each of us individually. Though there are billions of us here on Earth, He hears our pleas directly and answers us personally. It is a remarkable feat, one that is a physical impossibility to all of us who are constrained by time.

Perhaps more important than God’s being able to, however, is that He wants to. I’ve seen my young son pray about the most inconsequential of things, such as his new toys and knee-scrapes, yet I am convinced that God listens to his heart with rapt attention. I am sure from His perspective that my prayers about work and finances seem just as inconsequential, but He cares about these things because we care about them.

In spite of all this, I know a lot of people that don’t expect God to ever make direct, personal covenants with them like He did for Abraham, David, or Moses. I myself have been doubtful of it at times. I’ve had this idea that I’ll just be grandfathered-in to the promises that he made to His covenant people millennia ago.

That simply is not the way God works, and I’d like to use this study to examine that fact. In the meantime I would love to hear about what ways you have seen God show up for you personally? What sort of legendary promises has He made to you? How did that change your life moving forward?

How Do We Pray for Others- Question

Lately I’ve realized that my prayers are very inwardly focused. I’ve made great progress in exploring my heart, I am learning how to separate the wants from the needs of my soul, and I am better praying for my will to be aligned with what is actually “right.” All of that is good, but I still feel at a loss when it comes to praying for others.

My greatest hesitation is simply due to the fact that I can’t examine someone else’s soul in the same way that I can search my own. I find a lot of my prayers for other people follow a pattern of “please allow that they may have this blessing…unless that’s not really what they should have…in which case, I don’t know, just bless them with whatever it is they actually do need?…”

It’s not at all a question of whether I should be praying for others, but more of how I can do so in a way that lends real confidence to those prayers? I know the scriptures have some mighty examples of people praying for others, and I have decided to try and glean from their examples.

And with that in mind I suppose I might as well go straight to the source. I will conduct my study with a prayer directly from Jesus Christ’s own mouth, one entirely focused on those he cares for. I am talking, of course, about the Great Intercessory Prayer found in John 17.

Tomorrow we’ll get started with verses 1-3 of this chapter. In the meantime, is this a common dilemma for anyone else? If you’re willing to share, I would love to hear what you have done to bring more power to your prayers!

Thank you.