Takeaway: “Until you are convinced that you can’t change your child’s heart, you will not take prayer seriously.”
This is the first of my “Read Again” posts. I read quickly and I read a lot. Which does not alway lend itself to actually putting into practice what I am learning when I read. So I am choosing books that I thought were good enough to revisit. In most cases I am going to try to “read” the book in a different format. If I listened to an audiobook the first time, I will read on kindle or paper. If I read on kindle, I will read again in audio or paper. Certainly there is a significant difference between what I get out of audio and reading on my kindle. I do not think either is better, but they are different. My goal is going to be to post one “Read Again” post every two weeks.
Paul Miller targets what I think is the heart of why people do not pray.”One of the subtlest hindrances to prayer is probably the most pervasive. In the broader culture and in our churches, we prize intellect, competency, and wealth. Because we can do life without God, praying seems nice but unnecessary. Money can do what prayer does, and it is quicker and less time-consuming. Our trust in ourselves and in our talents makes us structurally independent of God. As a result, exhortations to pray don’t stick.”
Miller subtly, but clearly fights against the desire to make prayer all about removing yourself. “This is the exact opposite of Eastern mysticism, which is a psycho-spiritual technique that disengages from relationship and escapes pain by dulling self. Eastern mystics are trying to empty their minds and become one with the nonpersonal “all.” But as Christians we realize we can’t cure ourselves, so we cry out to our Father, our primary relationship.” The influence of both Eastern Mysticism and Platonic dualism means that Christians often have a bad theology of prayer. Prayer is neither about removing the self or about separating us from the physical world.
Instead, I believe and Miller seems to support, that at least part of prayer is about God helping us to become who he made us to be. Not by becoming less ourselves (and therefore more of God) as some Eastern influences would suggest, but by becoming less sinful and more of what God created us to be. And Miller suggests that it is not about becoming less physical and more spiritual (as Platonic dualists or Gnostics would suggest.) “A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus.”
Miller speaks most eloquently of prayer when he is talking about prayer for his children. There are three places that I think really show his heart for prayer with his children.
“Until you are convinced that you can’t change your child’s heart, you will not take prayer seriously.” A general theme of this book is that prayer is the work that we can do, when the work that we want done is impossible. It is not possible to change someone’s heart. But we can pray that God can change someone’s heart.
However the by product of prayer to change someone is that we are often changed ourselves. “One of the first things I noticed as I prayed for Emily (his daughter) was that I became more aware of her as a person. It also took the steam out of my tendency to fix her with quick comments. Because I was speaking to my heavenly Father about the potential drift of her heart, I could relax in the face of sin. Prayer softened me.”
The third important prayer lesson he learned from is children was about loving them not forcing them to change. “Don’t be truth-focused. The truth is that I need to love the other person.” As he learned that he could depend on God, he became less focused on trying to convince them to be changed. Instead, he could concentrate on loving them, maintaining the relationship, insuring that his own heart toward them was right, and he found that it was quite often then, that God worked.