Several years into my ministry as a pastor I stopped praying. It wasn’t something I planned or intentionally decided to do; it just happened- slowly and almost imperceptibly. I live in the Northwest where is it rainy and wet much of the time and where, without my noticing, moss grows very slowly on my concrete driveway. For quite a while I don’t even see it, and then suddenly it is there. That is how it happened with my prayer life. It slowly eroded without my awareness until one day I realized I had completely stopped praying (the exception, of course, was in public situations where my job as a pastor required me to pray. When asked to pray at potluck lunches I would joking agree to do so, saying I was "paid to pray.")
One of the reasons I quit praying was because I had developed doubt over unanswered questions: How does prayer work? What difference does it make for me to pray over the war in Afghanistan when I have no tangible influence over the conflict? Why, after doing prayers of anointing for years, are people not healed? I found myself thinking more and more about these questions. Finally my questions grew so large that I began to personally doubt God when it came to praying. My doubts eventually ended my prayer life.
Another reason I ceased praying is that it seemed to make no difference in my personal life. I would hear people talk about how differently their days would go depending on whether or not they had devotions and prayed. My days went the same, devotions or not. I longed for character growth, but nothing changed, even when I prayed.
One day, soon after I realized I had stopped praying, I was sitting in my study thinking about all this when God came to me in a powerful way. He reminded me that Jesus invested big time in prayer when he was here. He also brought to mind the fact that scripture has numerous things to say in support of praying. The big conviction came when he put in my mind this thought: “You can either pray following the example of Jesus and trusting my word, or you can choose to stay centered around your own questions and doubts.” I was immeditely in a state of brokenness and repentance over my arrogant and stubborn attitude. It was akin to Peter stumbling from the garden, heartbroken for betraying his Lord.
Even though none of my questions were answered, I went back to praying. I did so willingly and eagerly due to the change of heart God had brought about in me, but not much else changed. It still seemed mechanical, rote, lifeless- making little to no difference in my life or in the lives of others.
Then I experienced one of the key growth events of my life. Circumstances led me to a conference on biblical counseling. I was tired of an unproductive cycle of being a pop psychologist, hand-holding people through their problems without seeing much change or healing, so I elected to attend this conference which was touted for its effectivenss in helping pastors do counseling from a biblical perspective.
Two major shifts in my experience with scripture happened as a result of that conference. I learned that the Bible is not just a book of information, but also (and more importantly) a transforming book. Texts such as John 6:63, Proverbs 4:20-23, Isaiah 55, and Psalm 119 gave me a whole new understanding of the power of God's Word. As I read these and other passages I suddenly grasped that because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, when we take scripture into our minds, the one who inspired holy writ now empowers his Word into life. I like to say the that the Bible is twice inspired – when it was written and again when it is heard. Once we humans speak words from our mouths, we have no further control over them. But because the Holy Spirit inspired the messages of the Bible and because he also lives in us, he is in our minds to receive and empower the very words he inspired. They become alive in us.
The second major shift in my experience with the Bible was a behavioral one. I was urged to memorize verses so I would have them readily available when I counseled others. I had not memorized texts since I was a child getting little rewards for doing so. But I decided to accept the challenge to memorize Bible passages. So for three months I put memorizing verses on project status in preparation for the training I was doing to counsel others biblically.
I was totally unprepared for the impact this would have on my life. Within a month of entering into this discipline, God was healing some major emotional baggage I had carried all my life (fear and depression). He was also taking some addictions which I had been enslaved to for decades – my addiction to TV and my preoccupation with money worries. He was quite literally renewing and transforming my mind (see Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 4:22-24).
He was also transforming my prayer life. I was doing so much reflecting on scripture that I could not help but find it running through my mind while I was praying. So I just decided to let God’s Word become a major part of my prayer life. As verses would float through my mind I would praise and thank him. Or some verses would trigger questions, so I would simply ask those and silently wait for answers. Often no answers came, but at other times they did come. Either way, I found myself loving to be silent with him, similar to how I enjoy a comfortable meal with my wife, whether or not we speak.
There were also moments when a verse would bring deep conviction to a needed growth area in my life. I would thank God for this conviction and ask him to bring me the growth his word had asked of me.
The point I want to make is that prayer life becomes a whole different and wonderful experience when there is an active Word life also. I have often wondered why so many- both churched and unchurched- speak of having a prayer life, yet it seems to make so little difference in their lives. I now understand why. When I don’t have a lively journey with scripture, I am often left to pray about earthly, seen things. In fact my prayer life may even reinforce my preoccupation with self. I believe one of the primary functions of prayer is to set my mind on things above (see Colossians 3:13 and II Corinthians 4:16-18).
Focusing on scripture can have an absolutely marvelous impact on praying. When you pray, try letting God’s Word inform and shape your words. Then be prepared for the most wonderful ride of your life (Ephesians 3:20).
*(Try these texts for a start: I Corinthians 13:4-7; Philippians 4:4-8; Psalm 63:1-8; and Isaiah 55.)
Clarence Schilt has been a faculty member in the School of Religion at Loma Linda University and has pastored churches in Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Idaho and Oregon. Now retired, he is known for his books and video training tapes on small group ministries, as well as his leadership in spiritual growth retreats. Clarence and his wife Dianna have also led many retreats for marriage enrichment over the years. For resources and more information, check www.alifetodiefor.com
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3017