Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Drudgery in Prayer, or, Duty and Dry Bones

Read your Bible every day. Pray every day. These are the two rules of thumb with most Baptists for private devotional life. These devotions usually take the form of a praying over a list of prayer requests and reading a set amount of Bible verses and/or chapters. For some, it may mean reading from a devotional (i.e., Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening). There are many wonderful devotionals available. A few of the best ones are available online here.

But many experience a devolving of their private times with God into an exercise in futility - empty boringness. Their prayers seem to ascend no further than the ceiling; their minds are constantly invaded by distracting thoughts during Bible reading. At the end of their set time in the prayer closet, many emerge with only the satisfaction of a duty done. They feel no breath from God. There is no sweetness of spirit, no growth in Grace - just another checkmark for the daily task list. Even the wonderfully rich devotionals available to us can fail to lift us from the bonds of this terrestrial life and elevate us to the heavenlies.

With such leaden souls, many walk away from their private devotions completely, and not a few persevere only because of an incredible sense of duty and the will power to match. But is this how God wants us to commune with Him? Motivated by duty alone? Is this how we play with our children, or eat dinner with friends, or share intimacy with our spouses – by duty alone? God forbid.
Sure, duty is an important part of any relationship. But duty without delight is drudgery. And nobody enjoys drudgery. I am in no way dismissing our duties to family and friends – or especially to our heavenly Father. Duty is necessary and commanded. Duty in relationships is like the bones of a skeleton – it gives strength and provides a foundation. But the skeleton needs life and breath. Skeletons don’t move or interact; they don’t communicate or build. They don’t grow (by themselves). Skeletons need muscle and tendons, organs and blood. They need breath and life. Think of Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones.

We all go through seasons of lifeless devotion. That is an unfortunate part of communing with our heavenly Father while we are yet dwelling in our fleshly tabernacle. We all, from time-to-time, experience that weakness of the flesh. When Jesus found his disciples sleeping instead of praying he said of them, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41)

Weakness in prayer is attributed to the weakness of our sin-tainted flesh. This sin-weakened condition manifests itself in specific factors that contribute to the drudgery of our walk with God, including a life-squelching legalism that is almost as common amongst fundamental Baptists as King James Bibles.  This is going to take some space to “flesh out”, so stay tuned for more.



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