Celebration of Discipline (3)
This is part three of my series on Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline”. This post focusses on the third chapter of the book, “The Discipline of Prayer”.
Foster’s chapter on prayer focuses entirely on intercessory prayer, i.e. praying for others. He says that the discipline of prayer is the most central of all the Spiritual Disciplines, it surely is, that just makes me wonder why it’s placed second in the book. However, this is another fine chapter full of the encouragement you need to want to practice and the practical advice you need to actually practice this discipline.
I suppose that this chapter is quite different in that, unlike the neglected practices of meditation or fasting, the discipline of intercessory prayer is in fact practised (or at least attempted) by most of us modern Western Christians. For many of us the problem in this case is not that we no longer recognise the need to practice this discipline, but that our experience of it is dry, joyless and pales in comparison to the “prayer-lives” that we read about. We feel our prayer-life should be better, more joyful, more “real”, but our prayer-lives are often not that great. So this chapter is more advice than advocacy. One of my favourite things about this book is the heavy dose of friendly encouragement provided by Richard Foster throughout. He takes you on a tour of the giants of a particular discipline to show the joys available along that path while all the time assuring you that it is a path any Christian is capable of walking for themselves. This chapter on prayer is no different:
“But rather than flagellating ourselves for our obvious lack, we should remember that God always meets us where we are and slowly moves us along into deeper things”
One of the things we must get into our head at the start of our journey along this path is this: prayer works, God listens. I think if we could get that into our head and have it sink down deep into our hearts our prayer-lives would improve dramatically. The other important thing for us to get straight is that we too must listen. (It’s just dawned on me why this chapter follows the one on meditation.) To truly pray and have faith that our prayer will be answered means truly believing that we are praying things that are in line with God’s will. We first seek God’s will, ask Him what we should pray for and listen for an answer, for guidance from His word, for a desire or compassion to be stirred up inside us, and then we pray with certainty, faith, hope and compassion. We must, as Foster puts it, “tune in to God”.
“The work of intercession, sometimes called the prayer of faith, pre-supposes that the prayer of guidance is perpetually ascending to the Father. We must hear, know, and obey the will of God before we pray it into the lives of others.”
I particularly found Foster’s advice on using imagination to be helpful. Just like in meditation, using our imagination can be a powerful tool to help us to pray for people. I know that there are realities I cannot see, (e.g. that Jesus is present with Christians) but there is nothing to stop me contemplating and imagining these truths to help me pray.
Foster’s encouragement to use “flash prayers” for the people I see day-to-day has given a great breath of fresh air to my prayer-life and has helped to answer one of my own prayers to God: that I would love people more. When I sit on the bus I now pray simple little silent for my fellow passengers and for the driver.
While he lifts our heads to the clouds with accounts of the great praying saints of history, Foster keeps our feet on the ground, reminding us that prayer is something which must be learned and worked at, while giving us the tools do begin our work. For many, prayer is not a lost discipline, but maybe it is the joy that we have lost instead; Foster helps us to rediscover that joy in this chapter.
Feel free to read along and/or comment here.