Exposed Through Prayer
A Praying Life by Paul Miller is not so much a how-to manual for prayer, as it is a field guide to the Kingdom of God, showing us how and why, from the vantage point of the Kingdom, prayer becomes a natural way of life.
Not many books grab my attention before I get to the copyright page, but I was primed when I read this blurb by Tim Keller in the front of the book:“If Jesus or Jesus’ saving grace is just an abstraction to you, Paul Miller will be a great help in making his love a living reality to your heart.”
That was quite a promise for a book to live up to—one of particular interest to me because in the last few years I have started to realize how much of my religious life, including prayer, has been a flagrantly delusional attempt to please God. And nothing was really working out very well at all, as you might imagine.
God, through His Gospel, has begun to lovingly meddle with my life. He used this book to continue that by showing me that prayer is not an opportunity to “be good.” It is a way of seeing and joining in the epic tale that He is telling to and through His Church.
Paul had me laughing ruefully in the first chapter, describing in startling detail my prayer life to date:
“Prayer exposes how self-preoccupied we are and uncovers our doubts. It was easier on our faith not to pray. After only a few minutes, our prayer is in shambles. Barely out of the starting gate, we collapse on the sidelines — cynical, guilty, and hopeless…It’s worse if we stop and think about how odd prayer is…We vaguely know that the Holy Spirit is somehow involved, but we are never sure how or when a spirit will show up or what that even means.”
This reality was all the more distressing when I knew that St. Paul encourages us to pray all the time with all kinds of prayers, and I had been unjustifiably satisfied if I could simply check my To Do box that said “Prayer” on any given day. (I am not making that up.) How could I overcome the disparity between Paul the Apostle’s vision of a praying life and my discouraging attempts to do my “duty”?
Paul Miller’s initial suggestion was alluringly simple, but once tested had much more depth to it than at first appeared. He suggests intentionally coming to God “just as you are.”
“The difficulty of coming just as we are is that we are messy. And prayer makes it worse. When we slow down to pray, we are immediately confronted with how unspiritual we are, with how difficult it is to concentrate on God. We don’t know how bad we are until we try to be good.”
That sounds miserable. And it is, except for one thing: “Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. The very things we try to get rid of — our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness — are what get us in the front door! That’s how the gospel works. That’s how prayer works.”
Prayer, then, becomes an ongoing workshop in believing and accepting the grace of God toward me. As I timidly step into the throne room of God, I am repeatedly surprised (as I was when I first began to trust) to see Him beckoning to me to come boldly into his arms, reminding me I am there not because of how marvelous I have been in the last few minutes, but because of His Son who is seated at His right hand, constantly petitioning the Father for my full rights as an heir.
My prayer life has become a very real, highly-textured (I can’t really explain what I mean by that, but that is the experience) conversation filled with the comic irony that I am accepted at the most prestigious place in the universe, not because of how mature I am, but because clumsy, needy, childish people (like me) are graciously received and even embarrassingly doted on there. If you can believe it. I almost can’t. But, a mustard seed of faith seems to be what’s needed.
So, the love story has begun in my heart. An epic tale of mostly small, but very real adventures as I lean on the arm of the Author who is weaving many narratives into one glorious tale of a King, a Son, and an unexpected bride.
I am a voracious reader, and I love a good story. I am not exaggerating for effect when I say that praying has become a way for me to enter into the best story I’ve ever read. Full of mystery, plot-twists, tragedy and humor. And love, which is the best bit. I hope you will read this story. It’s one of the good ones. Thanks, Paul Miller!