|13th June, 1999|
The first thing we learned about spiritual breathing was that before we could rush into God's presence with all our needs and requests, we had to breathe in God's presence, and be aware of Him and wonder at His being. All prayer starts with our awareness of God rather than of our need. Once we are aware of Him we hold our breath in adoration and infilling. We spend time in God's presence. We just wonder and adore Him. We want to be filled with His glory! That's spiritual breathing!
Ironically, Australia, which was once called "the timeless land" is today becoming increasingly the land enslaved to the clock. Yet for all of our clocks and watches, we have less time than ever. We have become dominated by time and check the time frequently - how many of you have looked at your watch in the past minute? We are more conscious of time but with less time for so many important aspects of our lives. Frequently fathers say: "Not now son, I'll play with you when I have more time." But we never have more time.
We unconsciously say: "Not now God, I'll talk with You when I have more time!" Lack of time eats away at our relationships with those we love, especially with God. Jesus asked, "Could you not watch with me one hour?" Matt 26:40 This is a difficult question not many of us answer in the affirmative today. We are pressured for time. Time can be spent on any pursuit, but time spent in prayer is considered time wasted.
1. THE PRESSURE OF THE PRESENT.
We are made conscious of the value of time. Many management books stress minutes saved enable hours to be spent in work. "The One Minute Manager" by Blanchard and Johnson, promises to increase your productivity, profits and personality, all with exercises that take only one minute! We are so conscious of time that we spend all we have doing what we have before us. Any time spent on other pursuits seems a waste of time. Time for prayer is often buried under the piles of awaiting work. As Banjo Patterson, the great Australian poet, said in Clancy of the Overflow:
"Townsfolk have no time to grow,
They have no time to waste."
One football coach used to have an excuse for the team losing. He would say the team didn't really lose, it just ran out of time! Many people make the same excuse about their lack of a devotional life: they just run out of time! Some do not give prayer a priority - they claim they are going well but just run out of time! The pressure of the present moment makes us all conscious of wasting time. Time spent doing nothing is a waste. Waiting is seen as a waste. Time spent in prayer seems to be irrelevant in the light of this world's woes. We who pray seem to be like Nero: fiddling while Rome burns! I have heard that if only Schubert had been more efficient, he would have had time to finish his "Unfinished Symphony"! The pressures of the present, the tyranny of time, can remove essential beauty and truth from life and faith.
2. THE PERILS OF PRAYERLESSNESS.
Jesus taught His disciples that they "should always pray and never become discouraged." Luke 18:1. To Him, regular prayer was essential. When we cease to take time to pray, our prayerlessness causes spiritual decline, which results in despair, discouragement and spiritual death. What are we saying when we say we have not sufficient time to spend with God in prayer? Prayerlessness illustrates attitude towards God and our spiritual lives. We have all the time there is. We simply do not make prayer a priority. Other things crowd prayer out. What is that saying? Not making time to pray says we believe we are self-sufficient. What we say in effect is: "Thanks God, but I can handle this myself. I'll call you if things get sticky." The trouble with that is it does not work. We do not cope. We do not manage well by ourselves. We need God.
Not making time to pray says we do not need our access to God. Direct access to God was one thing that Adam and Eve had. When they lost their innocence and their place in the Garden of Eden they also lost direct access to God. Ever since, man has been trying to gain access to God's power, provision and presence. Man has built altars, made sacrifices, and performed all manner of rituals to gain access to God. The whole point of the coming of Christ, was to enable our sins to be forgiven through His death upon the Cross, so that we might gain access to the Father. Through the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross, we have been brought into direct access with God.
We do not need ritual, priest or temple because Christ has enabled us to have access to the Father. Now we have this access, not to pray and use the access is to deny the blood-brought privilege of our access to God. Not making time to pray says we are open to spiritual takeover. Has it occurred to you that as prayer is a two-way conversation, God may want to speak to you? If you do not make the time you will not hear what God has to say. God may dial a prayer to you but you are too busy to hear Him ring! When you live without prayer, you make yourself liable for spiritual takeover. The forces of spiritual evil will enter your life while you do not keep it spiritually occupied with the forces of good. If you have cleaned out your life, not to spend time in prayer is to open your life for spiritual takeover. Jesus once graphically explained that in the parable of the empty house. Matthew 12:43-45.
There is a direct relationship between personal righteousness and the priority given to prayer. All great and righteous people in the Kingdom of God have been people of prayer. Not making time to pray says we are open to unrighteous living. If you find a person who has fallen from spiritual grace and committed acts of which others are ashamed, you will always find that some time earlier they had ceased to be people of regular prayer habits. First prayer ceases then unrighteous living increases. John Bunyan said: "Prayer will make a man cease from sin as sin will entice a man to cease from prayer." If Satan can keep us prayerless, he can also keep us powerless. That is why Jesus was a man of such great power: He made prayer a priority.
That is why Paul was powerful, and Augustine, and Francis, and Luther, and Wesley, and every other spiritual giant. That is why in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed. Later He rebuked His disciples: "Could you not watch with me one hour?" He needed power that could only come through prayer. "Keep watch and pray." MARK 14: 38 Every Christian needs a quarter or half hour of prayer each day, except when you are extremely busy. Then you need an hour. (ST FRANCIS)
3. THE QUIETNESS OF PRAYER.
One great lesson about spiritual breathing, is, that after you breathe in, you hold your breath for a little time. That means you just be still and wonder and adore the God who loves you. You allow God's presence to fill your life. SØREN KIERKEGAARD 1813-1855 wrote "A man first thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realised that prayer is listening." That quiet listening is our ADORATION towards God. That means our silent praise. We just adore God. We can praise Him with words or song, but just silent adoration brings us to the right attitude for prayer. Don't bother to give God instructions or even ask for anything; just report for duty! In the quietness you not only adore and praise God, but you seek His INFILLING. The prayer of Paul was that Christians might be filled with the indwelling Christ. "I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." Eph 3:17
The best way of filling your life with the presence of God is through reading and studying His Word, especially if you can share it with another person in an atmosphere of praise. Again Paul advised: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Coloss 3:16.
That amazing Bible teacher who was one of the first preachers to dominate the television screen, ARCHBISHOP FULTON J. SHEEN, who died in 1979, said, "If you want to know about God, there is only one way to do it: Get down on your knees. The man who thinks only of himself says prayers of petition. He who thinks of his neighbour says prayers of intercession. He who thinks only of loving and serving God says prayers of abandonment to God's will, and that is the prayer of the saints." Prayer starts just being in the presence of God.
But you might say, "How can I find time in my busy life?" Try going to bed earlier by watching less TV, and getting up earlier. That will give you extra time. MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE, the famous English writer and BBC broadcaster, spoke of his need to spend time in prayer sometime in 1990. He said: "I wake up in the morning, and I like to begin the day by thinking what life is about, rather than plunging into the sort of things one is going to have to do. So I like to read the Gospels, the Epistles, St. Augustine. I read a bit, and then my mind dwells on what I've read, and this I consider to be prayer."
To wake and know that God's Spirit is dwelling in you brings great of assurance. As Paul wrote: "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." Rom 8:11 Prayer starts with breathing in knowledge of God's presence, which causes us to wonder and adore Him. That praise fills our hearts and we know His presence fills our being. We have not asked for anything. Just to be there is enough for now. As that grand old Scottish Bible commentator and television personality, DR WILLIAM BARCLAY, said: "When I am in trouble, and when I go to my friend, I don't want anything from him except himself. I just want to be with him for a time, to feel his comradeship, his concern, his caring round me and about me, and then to go out to a world warmer because I spent an hour with him. It must be that way with God and me. I must go to Him simply for Himself."
When Jesus asked His disciples, "Could you not watch with me for one hour?" He was asking also of us. Our prayer life grows in its power and delight when we learn to spend time in the presence of God. To breathe spiritually requires us first to breathe in and be aware of God's presence and wonder at His grace and love. Then it requires us to hold the breath and spend time in God's presence in adoration and praise, in infilling our lives with His indwelling Spirit. That is prayer at its highest. We haven't asked for a thing, but already we have been equipped and strengthened for whatever lies ahead.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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