Pursuing Discipline

Prayer can take many forms and be many different things. I write about prayer as a pursuit– something done with purpose and with some kind of discipline. Prayer is not meant to be just another discipline in the life of a believer. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17; but this is not meant as an exercise to pursue quantity of prayer over quality, or to spend every waking moment consumed with prayer to the exclusion of all else.

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However, we are called to be disciples– and that necessarily entails learning discipline. Any activity taken on without discipline can’t really be called a pursuit. It may be a hobby or an entertainment, but pursuit involves direction, dedication, and focus. And this includes our prayer life.

I want to be very careful in discussing this aspect of prayer, because I believe that there is a real danger of letting the discipline overshadow the purpose of prayer. HOW we pray is never more important than WHY we pray, or to WHOM we pray! But failing to make a plan for prayer can cheat us of the benefits of learning to pray deeply, consistently, and with greater focus.

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With this in mind, I want to spend some time each month talking about ways to “grow” a life of prayer. Today, I want to focus on journaling as a way to pursue prayer.

As with any discipline, the key is consistency. That’s why journaling can really help. Keeping a record every day of things to pray about, of reasons for praise, of people or issues to bring before the throne of Grace, can keep us focused. It can also help us chart God’s answers and His work in our lives and the lives of others. I keep four separate notebooks– one for each quarter of the year. But there are wonderful daily journals and notebooks that can work as well. Some come pre-printed with scripture or prayer prompts for each day. Some people use a pocket calendar or calendar app on their phone or computer. The method isn’t as important as having a planned approach.

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I recommend having a daily focus that is consistent from week to week. For instance, on Sunday, I focus on The Church– missions, local church congregations, persecuted churches, evangelism effort, etc.. On Monday, I focus on Family and Friends. Tuesday, I pray for the Government– local, state, federal, and leaders of other nations. Wednesday is Community–community services, schools, businesses, neighbors, even roads and parks and utilities! Thursday is Global Day– things like war and drought, natural disasters and diseases. Friday, I focus on business and finances– my own, and others. Saturday is a day to pray about cultural issues, like abortion, marriage, gender issues, etc. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pray about family members on Thursday, or about a school shooting on Sunday. But it means that I pay special attention to those matters on particular days. Here are some reasons why:

  • God wants to hear from me about everything. But without a plan, I tend to pray about the same few things over and over. I pray about whatever is worrying me in the moment. And only that. God wants me to be aware of all that He is doing. He also wants to remind me that He is LORD of everything; big and small, immediate and long-term, far away or around the corner.
  • God wants me to be consistent and persistent in praying. But that doesn’t mean praying obsessively. Obsessive prayer can become nagging, doubt-ridden, desperate pleas. God listens to our prayers. And we can trust Him, even when we don’t get immediate answers or relief. We don’t stop praying, but we also don’t stop trusting Him for the next step in the journey. God is bigger than just one aspect of my life– no matter how urgent or overwhelming that aspect may seem today. My focus needs to be on God’s sovereignty, and not just my immediate circumstances.
  • God works in mysterious ways. I may not feel like praying for my Governor, or my neighbor, but it may be that my faithful prayer today is what God will use to make changes in some other aspect of my life. Praying for what I have on my list, rather than just what pops into my mind may actually remind me of something else, and help me see how God is working in an area I might have missed otherwise!
  • By practicing this discipline in prayer, I am learning discipline in other areas of my Christian walk.

I read an interesting article on-line the other day about the late Duke of Windsor. Born as the heir to the throne of Great Britain, he was trained from an early age. His father, the King, wanted him to learn discipline and honor, so as to be prepared to assume his role. But Edward despised his father’s training. He found his father to be harsh and critical, prim and joyless. And he rebelled. He took little interest in the affairs of state, preferring to focus on his own pleasure. As his father grew older and weaker, Edward was asked to take on more royal duties. He enjoyed making appearances at parties, but despised many of the other tasks– letter writing, or visiting factories or various parts of the Commonwealth. He refused to settle down and marry, until he met Wallis Simpson, who was twice-married, and separated from her second husband. She was also an American citizen.

Edward VIII wanted to defy the laws and traditions of his own nation in order to marry. When this proved to be contentious, he decided to abdicate his throne, marry Mrs. Simpson, and live abroad. Instead, his brother became the next king (George VI), guiding his nation and the commonwealth through the difficult days of the second world war.

For many years, the myth of a king who gave up his throne to be with “the woman I love” has prevailed. But there was more to Edward’s abdication than blighted love. Edward was not incapable of ruling, but he was unfit to rule it well. His lack of dedication to his duties and citizens became evident in the very first crisis. Those who were working with him during his short reign witnessed his lack of care or concern about paperwork, and his selfish insistence on doing what he wanted to do, and not what was expected of him or of benefit to his people. He was a man without discipline and without a clear moral compass https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-417388/Prince-Charmless-A-damning-portrait-Edward-VIII.html.

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The Bible is filled with many examples of kings throughout the history of Israel and Judah who also failed to learn discipline or restraint. Their desire to reap the benefits of their position without learning to fulfill their responsibilities led to the moral, and eventually the physical and political collapse of their nations. They did not make a habit of seeking God, or of listening to His prophets. They sneered at good advice, and defied the laws of Moses and the rules God had given for the kings. Some of them worshiped other gods; some even sacrificed their own children to foreign gods or goddesses. They failed to keep the sacred holidays; they failed to read the Word of God; they failed to pray– except as a last resort!

We often perceive prayer as a personal practice– and it is. But how we choose to develop our prayer life may be tied to how we choose to develop the rest of our lives. We don’t need to be rigid and legalistic about it. But we do need to live– and pray– with purpose, if we wish to follow the example of Jesus and grow in our walk with Him. Not only does it impact our life and growth– it impacts our witness and our influence as well. Pursuing prayer in a disciplined way may have a far-reaching impact on our life and the lives of others– even in the generations to come. For more, see the page Why I Keep a Prayer Journal

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