Our Engagement with the Invisible Lover of Our Souls / CREATOR
by Dr. Joe Mulvihill

Matthew 26:40-41 - 40 And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and He *said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  41 Keep watching and praying, so that you do not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

“Getting through duty to delight.” J.I. Packer
My prayer life never seems adequate. Part of this, no doubt, is due to my continued residual Fallenness or sin in my life. However, another part is the honest difficulty with having a relationship with an invisible, non-material God.

Many brilliant Christian thinkers, leaders, theologians have commented on this over the years. Listen to C.S. Lewis on this subject of our difficulty with maintaining focus and momentum in prayer,
By the very constitution of our minds as they now are-whatever they might have been when
God first made man - it is difficult for us to concentrate on anything which is neither
sensible/sense-perceptible (like potatoes) nor abstract (like number). What is concrete yet immaterial can be kept in view only by painful effort. Some would say, ‘because it does not exist.’ But the rest of our experience cannot accept that solution. For we ourselves and all that we most care about seems to come in the class ‘concrete (that is individual and real) and insensible.’
(Not made of matter, not physical) If reality consists of nothing but physical objects and abstract concepts, then reality has, in the last resort, nothing to say to us. We are in the wrong universe.” (Letters to Malcolm pp. 113-114)

Notice Lewis here says we have a longing for and unspoken value for the immaterial / non-physical or what he terms as "insensible" (that which cannot be picked detected by our five senses).

This issue has been weaponized into an actual argument against God’s existence called the argument of divine hiddenness we can address in a later post. Notice too Lewis is also pointing out that the “things” that make life worth living are not themselves physical but have effects in the physical world around us. This would be ideas that are the common themes in great literature and music. Themes like love, virtue, care, loyalty, redemption, reconciliation. But then we are brought right back to our own issues with reaching to an immaterial yet real ("concrete") God again. Here is more from the great theologian J.I. Packer on how unsettling our resistance to prayer is to even a moderately reflective Christian. It is a lengthy quote but worthwhile for our purposes here,

For while we talk about it, all the rest of our experience, which in reality crowds our prayer into
the margin or sometimes off the page altogether, is not mentioned…Well, let’s now at any rate
come clean. Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, it casts
a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are
delighted to finish. While we are in prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a
crossword puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us. And we know that we are not alone in this.
The fact that prayers are constantly set as penances tells its own tale. The odd thing is that this
reluctance to pray is not confined to periods of dryness. When yesterday’s prayers were full of
comfort and exultation, todays will still be felt as, in some degree, a burden.

Now the disquieting thing is not simply that we skimp and begrudge the duty of prayer. The really disquieting thing is it should have been numbered among duties at all. For we believe that we were created ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ And if the few, the very few minutes we now spend on intercourse with God are a burden to us rather than a delight, what then? If I were a Calvinist, this symptom would fill me with despair. What else can be done for-or what should be done with – a rose tree that dislikes producing roses?

This is an unwelcome and uncomfortable truth about ourselves. Thankfully, the Bible anticipates this and encourages us to think and reflect on the unseen often (2 Cor. 4:18, Col. 1:15-17, 2 Cor. 2:11, 1 Tim. 1:17, Eccl. 3:11).

Hebrews 11:3 - By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Some steps toward remedying this as we mature as Christians is as follows;
First, simply humble yourself. In the master prayer given by Jesus at the request of his closest and most loyal disciples we are instructed to begin with the asserting of our CHILD-like status before God. There is so much we don’t understand and cannot see, and every prayer is to include a trust based on the reality of our dependence and status before the Almighty. Even non-believers with only the benefit of common grace / general revelation affirm the deeply healthy habit of knowing what you don’t know or understand, i.e. accepting the reality of your ignorance or grasping our general and particular limitations.

Second, vary your prayer life. We are living in an age of UNPRECEDENTED availability of differing prayer expressions. It is something close to technological magic that someone can instantly enjoy Beethoven’s Fifth symphony (albeit audibly diluted considerably less skill (like Darrell Evans "Trading My Sorrows") and then their current favorite modern worship song of considerably less skill. Great, authentic, God honoring worship is really just solid prayer set to music. Remember that the song and prayer book at the center of God’s word is the Psalter, and there are at least five distinct prayer and song types across the one-hundred and fifty chapters.

Variety is built into the mature Christian’s prayer life so that your prayer life doesn’t get
reduced to the one type among the five. The one basic prayer type of which we are all tempted to pray in exclusion to the others is petition or the “gimme-prayer.”  If this is your only prayer expression it can paradoxically lead to nihilism, selfishness, depression and anxiety! Why? Because dysfunction results from disordered priorities. How does this dysfunction happen when we only pray petition prayers? One way is by creating the habit of focusing/concentrating on our shifting and often contradictory wants. Another way this happens is by really highlighting over and over again what we haven’t yet received or what we currently lack in our lives.

So, it has never been easier to vary your prayer life than it is today and even secularists concede the power of humbling yourself, so let’s continually ask the Holy Spirit to give us discipline to
form mature, holy habits as we strengthen our prayer life.

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