Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Thinketh Such Things

One of the truths about prayer that has taken me perhaps the longest to embrace, for it feels often foolish to the human being, is that prayer must be spoken out loud, even whispered if that is all the voice that one can muster for it.

There's a popular myth in Christianity that one need not pray out loud, but must only pray by thinking the words or perhaps by praying in the heart, but this sets up a very difficult question, as well as a very deep hypocrisy.

The question is how, if we are to pray only in thought, we then signal the Lord that these are the thoughts that are directed toward Him. How do we tell Him that we would like Him to start listening? Do we merely think it and then, He knows? If this is true, then the Lord must be listening to all of our thoughts. Most of us don't like that idea, primarily because we are not really thinking Lord-worthy thoughts all of the time. Most of our thoughts are extremely mundane...or worse. So we ask God, by asking Him to hear our thought prayer, to ignore the rest of our thoughts that we know that He heard and to pay attention only to those that we dedicate specifically to Him.

Or if we pray only in our hearts, how is it that we move our stream of thought from our heads to our hearts? The truth is that this doesn't look very different for most of us, except to say that we perhaps strain a little more. We perhaps put a little more stress into our thought and say that it is our heart straining it, but is it really? We may spend our entire lives wondering what a prayer of the heart looks like and how it is fundamentally different from a prayer of the thought.

But the greater concern with this idea that we need only to pray in our thoughts or in our hearts is not the questions that it raises, but the hypocrisy that it introduces. It turns our lives exactly upside-down from where they should be, if we're honest about it, and this is extremely dangerous.

It doesn't take much to see this. Each of us has millions of thoughts each day. If prayer is nothing more than our thoughts intentionally directed toward God, then what do we do with the countless thoughts that are not intentionally directed toward God? Here's the truth: we are not intentional about them at all. We have millions of mindless thoughts and direct only a handful of chosen ones toward God.

Truthfully, I don't know anyone who pauses to say, "Lord, please listen to this next set of thoughts," who is just as intentional about saying, "Lord, do not listen to these." We're non-discriminating in our thought process except in one direction, and this sets us up with two ways of living.

This makes us intentional about our relationship with God, but not intentional at all about how we live. All of a sudden, we must admit that our lives are not holy. They are not sacred. They are not faith-full. They are not even Christian lives, no matter that we say that we pray. Most of our lives are mindless, unintentional. We run on auto-pilot unless we need God for something, and then, we turn toward Him, but not until.

God has told us this is not what He desires from us. The fathers of our faith, the saints, have testified this is not the way to live as God's people. Everything about our lives is supposed to be intentional. Everything we do is supposed to be for His glory. Everything we do is supposed to reflect His love. But if we cannot, even in our own "prayer" (thought) life, show a care for this singleness of living - because we are unintentional so much of the time - how can we ever live it as a witness to the world?

The same is true of the heart. When we pray in our heart, we put our deepest hope there. But this means that all of the rest of the time, we are not living with our hope in our heart. It's on a shelf somewhere, I guess, waiting for us to take it down and funnel it toward God once more in a moment of need or whatever. This is not the way that God intended us to live.

But become intentional about your prayer life, become a person who prays out loud, and it no longer runs together with all of the unintentional things you're doing every day. Pray with your mouth, with your voice, and you come to see more clearly how your thoughts wander. It's easier to put them into perspective and to bring them into alignment with the integrated faith-full life you're trying to live. Because all of a sudden, your thoughts stand in contrast to your prayer. You see them for what they're worth.

Pray with your mouth, with your voice, and you learn to carry your hope in your heart more continually. It's easier to have hope in your heart when it's not busy doing your pleading for you, or worse, when it's not idle in the course of an "average" day. In true prayer, there is no average day, and you need that hope. It's easier to have it when you permit it simply to dwell inside of you, to live in your heart.

As much as we have said that prayer needs be nothing more than a thought that you think toward God, we have also confessed that speaking a prayer changes something about the experience.

Truth is, it changes everything. 

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