I come from a church tradition that follows keeps a season of Advent before Christmas. For me, the changing of seasons is always an opportunity to get back to the heart of things we easily fall into a routine with. Advent in particular is one of my favourite seasons because it’s such a rich and privileged season of prayer. That said, it’s also a very easy time of year to do anything but pray! There’s so much to do - so much good to do! Family, Charity, Generosity, Outreach, Traditions… With so many pressures on our attention, our time, our money and our energy, it’s easy to loose sight of the heart. Even our prayers, and those traditions that are intended to enlighten our prayer, can become something we just do. So it’s important to ask why…
Jesus is coming - and I don’t just mean that He was incarnate as a man in the year 0 for some 33 years. Jesus is alive today, and He’s got a plan to come back. We find it easy to forget that Jesus spoke clearly about His coming again. We find this truth throughout the new testament writings – Jesus is coming back immanently. The Lord is at hand. Do we even believe that? Is it important? Does it demand a response from us?
We often complain about secularism in the world, but we’re less quick to see it in our own lives. It’s easy to find ourselves believing the immediate demands of the day more than the eternal truths of the gospel. Don’t we? I honestly don’t think it’s a big problem for us to feel like we should pray more. I’ve found that the more we pray the more we feel the need to pray… so I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty. But I do think it’s worth checking whether the little prayer we do get round to doing is getting more secular by the year or if it still carries the marks of an authentic encounter and relationship with God!
Is it possible to prayer to be secular? Surely we wouldn’t pray if we lost sight of the God that we’re praying to? Really?! Here are some confessions of my part. Sometimes my prayer can be really functional – I’m not actually concerned about God except that I get to the end of the day. My prayer can be focused on my own plans and the ways I think my plans should work out. My prayer can be focused on justifying myself… Sometimes even my corporate prayer can be more to persuade those people I’m praying with than to actually ask anything from the Lord! Prayer meetings can be more about exhortation than intercession. My prayers can be about developing my own virtues or discipline. At times I’m more satisfied with my poverty than I am desperate for God that I never quite move on from confessing my need for Him to actually asking from Him the things on His heart. Sure, at least I’m still praying and at least I’m actually talking to God. But when my prayer gets like this it gets exhausting! It’s a relationship I’m hardly keen to invest my time in & it’s an encounter that isn’t joyous. But God wants our prayer to be enjoyable.
There’s a prayer that I’ve really started to enjoy. “Maranatha”, “Come Lord Jesus”. Asking for Jesus to come back is so far removed from our own plans, our own understanding, our own strength, that it does something to our hearts to take any time at all to ask it of the Lord. It begins to offer perspective, not just rationally, but in wonder. That’s the best preparation of our heart to encounter the familiar again and again without loosing heart. Wonder before the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ. Not just a story, or not even just history… a Man who today stands in heaven interceding and singing over us, and whose heart burns with passion for the day of His return. As we catch a sight of Him again we guard our hearts and minds from the pernicious tendency to become secular, worldly or just bogged down with the immediate.
At home, we’re looking at which traditions to pass on to our children. How do we leave space in our traditions, whether at home or at church, for a fresh revelation of God Himself? How do we make the most of this season to break out of our worldliness and go after the heart again? God wants you to enjoy Him. He’s after your heart, and He’s coming for your heart. Rejoice - He’s at hand.
Pieter is on staff as an intercessory missionary at Manchester House of Prayer. With a heart to see families grow in prayer together, he is developing our Family Prayerwatch. He also serves in the prayer room as a worship leader, singer and prayer leader.