Monday, March 12, 2012

Your Prayer Life Wants to Read This

A few weeks ago, in Everything You Need to Know about Lent, I suggested that instead of - or in addition to - abstaining from chocolate or cola this Lent, it might be spiritually constructive to consider what it would mean to sacrifice our sacrifices.  Admittedly, that phrase requires unpacking.  In brief, I observed that the death and resurrection of Jesus ends any illusion that we can deserve (and therefore manipulate) God's love.  The same Lord that Peter denies comes back to Peter, finds and forgives Peter, and on this foundation anchors God's Church.  Lent begins that season which ends with the unsettling and wonderful news that salvation will not be produced at my own hand.  Just to the extent that our identities from time to time become wrapped up in illusions of self-sufficiency, we receive the freedom in Lent to sacrifice our sacrifices and receive God's love as gift. 

What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?  

Heck no!  In the original post, I offered some tangible examples of what I imagined sacrificing sacrifices might look like.  Mostly, they involved unhooking myself from what Donald Miller has called the imaginary script in which I am the hero to every scene in a movie about me.  As I've made my way through the Lenten journey, however, another thought linked to concrete practice has returned to me again and again.  This is the thought: sacrificing one's sacrifices has everything to do with adoration.

That sacrificing one's sacrifices has everything to do with adoration risks being a Captain Obvious insight.  Even so, it's an insight with legs and the power to nuance and open one's prayer life in significant ways.

The call to adoration is woven into the fabric of Lent.  Walking the Stations of the Cross, in particular, adoration marks the familiar chorus: "We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you: because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world."  What if, even if I didn't grow my prayer time during Lent - which would be a very good thing to do - I examined the shape and proportion of my prayers, with a special eye for accentuating adoration?

Some of us are familiar with the ACTS tool of prayer.  ACTS, an acronym, for the four chief kinds of prayer: 

Adoration - praising God for who God is

Confession - naming my sins before God, asking forgiveness
Thanksgiving - thanking God for the blessings of my life
Supplication - asking for God's help and interceding for others

When I learned ACTS as a child, it was explained to me that all four kinds of prayer ought to be present each time one prays - that is, it's not multiple choice.  What's more, order is important.  Rather than skipping to the wish list, it's proper to stop and say out loud just who this is I'm addressing, and to marvel in this miracle for just a moment: "Bless the Lord, O my soul.  And all that is within me, bless God's holy name."  Then confession - naming the obstacles in my life with God.  Then thanksgiving - recalling those times for which I gratefully perceive God at work. Then, and only then, the supplications, which might - God helping - be shaped at this point by the prayers which have preceded them.  

Of course, this isn't rigid.  Life necessitates exceptions.  But in the same way that workout gurus will tell you that the order in which you exercise your muscle groups can significantly alter your body shape for the better, I find ACTS a helpful rhythm for the cultivating of my prayer life.  

Assuming, then, that these four kinds of prayer are already present in my life, what if Lent - by virtue of its foundation in the chorus from the Stations of the Cross - meant the accentuating of my adoration muscle group?

I remember being a student aid at Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center, and Diane, my boss, would call me and Brent, my other boss, into her office every two weeks or so for prayer.  We were the grad school Scholarship Office, so we prayed, primarily, for students and their corresponding missionary organizations.  I remember being initially intimidated by no-holds-barred evangelical prayer.  No books.  No rules (at least not spoken ones).  No limits (an hour or more was not uncommon between the three of us).  And yet, the more we prayed, the more I relished it: twenty minutes in adoration - the three of us taking turns recalling to one another the greatness of God - one praise inspiring the next.  Sometimes Diane would insist on a hymn - a brave move, regrettably unsuited to our strengths.  But all glory.  Beginnings of timelessness, or kairos time, as I later learned to call it.  By the time we came to the intercessions, the anxiety that usually leads so many of us to prayer was gone.  We stayed still in God's presence and discovered prayers we would not have thought to pray on our own.  God began to give us eyes for the world his sacrifice had saved.

If sacrificing sacrifices sounds obtuse, keep it simple: adore him.  Come!  Let us adore him.  Armed with the reminder that God comes as gift, use Lent to grow in adoration.  Make time, find friends, with which to practice adoration: "...for the great One in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel."

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