"The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side. One can't help him, no matter how one tries.”
Martin Luther has captured for us a very profound truth regarding human reason. We often climb on the horse on one side and then overcorrect. We slump over to the other side. Instead of sitting balanced, we live and breathe in a world of extremes.
Overcorrecting in Prayer
Overcorrection is never more obvious in the life of a believer than in one’s prayer life.
Do you remember that moment when you realized that you can legitimately and "legally" pray to God wherever you are, however you are? It happened this way for me.
As we buckled up on our way for family vacation, I watched my mother lead us in prayer as we drove off. I found out that Dad was able to pray with us, too, while watching the road. Eyes wide open, no bowed head. He wasn't missing out one bit. This was so against the Sunday mornings I knew. It opened a whole new realm for my prayer life.
While there remains a handful of "eyes-closed, head-bowed" sticklers out there, the norm has become something very different. We have emphasized an approach to prayer that is completely subjective. "Pray as you see fit." Maybe your "prayer time" is in the car every morning. Maybe it's while you're in line at the grocery store. The consensus, though, is just to pray when you've been stirred in the soul to do so. Often the reality is prayer occurs when you feel coldly obligated to at mealtime and maybe before bed, if you're lucky. As Oswald Chambers poses it, “There is no need to get to a place of prayer; pray wherever you are."
I get it – sort of. I understand that 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is in our Bibles and that we should delight to "pray without ceasing." Prayer is not a checkbox we should accomplish, but a disposition we should strive for. We should want to talk to God wherever we are. It's not the sentiment that I take issue with. It is the implications this sentiment often leads to -the main implication being how this view of prayer affects our reverence.
The majority of the times we talk about kneeling in prayer are when we make light of our old backwoods-church traditions (see above), or when we comment on how bad some of those worship stock images are (see the silhouettes balancing on a mountain behind a multi-colored sky).
Is this a problem?
Affirming the Both/And
Let me push back on Chambers here. Oftentimes, when we emphasize that prayer can happen wherever/whenever/however, we begin to lose the sacredness of prayer. We grow dull to God's command to take off our shoes in the midst of holy ground (Ex. 3:5). We subconsciously throw out reverence in our embrace of convenient, random, multi-tasked prayer. And I would go as far as to say, based off of what I know about myself, that when we make this leap, it does not lead us to more frequent and genuine prayer. Instead, it often results in more haphazard, distracted, or even neglected prayer.
Just take a moment to think about your own prayer life. If someone asked you what part of your faith is very strong, would you answer ‘prayer'? Maybe. I know it’s not my answer. In many conversations I have had with fellow brothers and sisters, the same rings true. Could it be that, in our well-intentioned drift towards praying wherever we are, that we've forsaken the necessity, and the reverence, of regular prayer?
I think we have fallen off of the other side of the horse.
Yes, we are free to pray whenever and wherever and however we are. We are not bound to prayer systems to stand right before God. But in thinking about prayer that is regimented and intentional vs. prayer that is random and on-the-spot, what if we became people who affirm both/and instead of either/or?
In short, we need Daniel 6:10 prayers, but also Ephesians 6:18 prayers.
Daniel knew he could pray where he was the moment he found out about the document that sealed his fate, but he felt it necessary to run to his house, with his window facing Jerusalem. Why is this? John Calvin’s commentary is helpful:
Daniel, therefore, was obliged to persevere in the holy practice to which he was accustomed, unless he wished to be the very foulest apostate! He was in the habit of praying with his windows open: hence he continued in his usual course, lest any one should object that he gratified his earthly king for a moment by omitting the worship of God. I wish this doctrine was now engraven on the hearts of all men as it ought to be… We must maintain, therefore, not only the duty of offering to God the sacrifice of prayer in our hearts, but that our open profession is also required, and thus the reality of our worship of God may clearly appear.
I have tried to recover some of this “open profession” in my own life. I am doing my best to get up in the mornings, get on my knees (yes, actually doing it), and praying. I am using the Valley of Vision and PrayerMate to guide these intentional prayer times. It has been wonderful, but not easy. I've already missed a day; the point is not my ability. The point is, these prayer times have already, in a week's time, helped re-invigorate my prayer life. They have helped me avoid overcorrecting in this important area.
For me, there is something about getting on my knees that incites humility and fear within me before God. There is something about being in the stillness of my office, in the dark and in the presence of God alone, that makes my prayer focused – that makes me feel like I do indeed have an Audience. And truthfully, as time goes on, a commitment to "Daniel 6:10" prayers should help me have more confident, focused, and genuine "Ephesians 6:18" prayers when my eyes are wide open driving down the freeway. A renewed focus on attentive, undistracted and reverent prayer will greatly help us keep our balance and stay in the saddle.