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Cursory prayers

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On Sunday mornings we are slowly, bit by bit, methodically working our way through the letter of James. I’ve never preached through the entire letter before, so this has been both challenging and enjoyable. Two weeks ago, we looked at James 1:2-8, paying careful attention to verse 5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” We should actively seek God for wisdom to endure, navigate, withstand, conquer the trial. (Feel free to supply your own action word).

As I prepared that week’s sermon, I was challenged repeatedly about my prayer life. We have difficulty in rightly assessing our personal prayer life because it is, you know, personal. It is far from the inspecting, evaluative eyes of others. It is easy for us to make charitable appraisals about the quality of our prayer life. No one is listening in on our prayers to provide us feedback.

I have been using Thomas Manton’s Commentary on James in preparation for this sermon series, and read two quotes that altered the valuation of my prayer life:

The test of true prayer is its faith. Cursory requests are made out of habit, not in faith; so examine your prayers. Pray with hope and trust…Through our trust God’s power is engaged.

Asking remedies our greatest needs. People sit down groaning under their discouragements because they do not look further than themselves. God humbles us with great weakness, that He may turn us to prayer. That is as easy for the Spirit as it is hard for nature. If God commands anything beyond our nature, it is to bring you to your knees for grace.

Whether I asked for it or not, God provided someone to assist me in accurately assessing my prayer life. What leaped off the page and made a resounding thud in my soul was the word “cursory.” Other words sprang to mind. Perfunctory. Superficial. Token. Convenient. It is easy to drift into complacency in prayer.

That same week, our family listened to the radio theatre production of G.A. Henty’s book “Under Drake’s Flag” (which is outstanding – go to hentyalive.com for a sample). Included in the liner notes was “The Prayer of Sir Francis Drake”. Written in 1577, the first stanza of his prayer says:

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Praying before meals, before bedtime, at the beginning of the service is a good thing to do. It honors God to do so. Should I be content with such brief, habitual prayers when I am praying alone? In my personal prayer time, the purpose is to get to the heart of the Father. More importantly, it is to let the Father get to my heart. I’m not advocating a “name it and claim it” approach to prayer. I am advocating (and striving towards) praying bigger. Rooted in faith, hope, and trust, I want to get away from the easy, convenient, no-risk prayers. It will require an adjustment in the mechanics I employ in prayer, but I trust it will position me to receive and enjoy even more of the grace that God so richly, lavishly, and unreservedly gives.

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