The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside. We cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God: it is a grace that is given…. In this regard it would be proper to speak of “the path of disciplined grace.” It is “grace” because it is free; it is “disciplined” because there is something for us to do…. The grace of God is unearned and unearnable, but if we ever expect to grow in grace, we must pay the price of a consciously chosen course of action. —Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth
I was putting together a PowerPoint slide with the names of people we would be praying for in our Wednesday Morning Bible Study Class this week. It is typically a different list of people than the ones in our Sunday church prayers. I think that is because of the intimacy of the class, and the sense of community we share. Folks seem willing to offer up names for prayers in this setting, which they would not be comfortable presenting for public prayer in a worship service. I often take just a couple of moments to remember these folks in my own prayers when I finish preparing the slide. It feels a bit odd, praying at my computer, even though I am pausing from my active typing. But I continue to appreciate the privilege … I think because it touches on this theme of “discipline” which Richard Foster offers to us in his words above. It is this image of “disciplined grace” that compels me a bit, and the healthy tension between God’s work of grace in our lives and our disciplined attempt to engage that grace in our lives. For me, I can find no other place where this more clearly at work than in the ministry of prayer. As we pray for others, we are reminded of this “alien grace” which comes to us from the outside by the power and presence of God. We are also reminded of the fact that through the regular experience of prayer, God uses that grace to transform our lives.
It is an understanding of prayer that is not always embraced by people, whether they are secular folks or church folks. All too often we think about prayer only in an emergency. When things are going down the tube, then we fall on our knees and search the heavens for signs from God. It is an odiously self-centered view of prayer, but one that is championed by all too many people in the world. It is an odious self-centered view of prayer whose trap I fall into on occasion, too. That is why I love Foster’s talk about “discipline.” It is a reminder that we must be praying always – not just when we are in crisis – and certainly not just for ourselves. It is a reminder that the words God speaks to us in prayer may be more easily heard or seen when we are praying proactively instead of reactively. It is a summons to this “disciplined” nature of the prayer life.
And so, as you pray and meditate this week, consider those places are where you are more inclined to be reactive, instead of proactive in your prayer life. Does it occur in a certain type of situation? Is it likely to be a reality for you at certainly times or in certain seasons of the year? Is it often a reflection of how you are feelings spiritually in your heart? Is it something that develops when people around you seem to be losing their spiritual heads in times of crisis? Pray about what God might be leading you to consider in these situations … pray for a spirit that might lead to a more disciplined and centered prayer life. Entertain the possibility that at these times, God is trying to “work from the inside” on you and your prayer discipline.