Now or Never

Prayer is often referred to as a form of warfare, but in our peaceful society, an easier to understand metaphor might be the sporting field: the serious kind. You walk across that chalk line, it’s game-on and you are now a target. But so are they and you quickly learn to enjoy the fact that you are a target, but you do not to wait for them to come to you—the best form of defence is attack. Spectators cheer. You are hit and sometimes carried off. But you never ever give up, because you have one thing in mind. The smell of battle makes you happy.

Over the years you learn to live it and breathe it. You accumulate secret stories and sometimes out of frustration with spectators and friends, you yell at them: ‘Why don’t you get out there yourself?’ In the end the only way to really know what you are talking about—to learn how to play—is to play. ‘What’s the best motivation to pray?’ I once heard someone ask a friend of mine. ‘The best motivation to pray,’ he replied, ‘is to pray.’

Prayer is the open secret of life. Like any other work we do it gives us the dignity of causality. But like the sporting field it’s also riddled with absurdities and so-called ‘heresies’, many of them owned by the strangest of people who—driven by a burning passion to win—attempted some of the most stunning and beautiful things ever seen on the field. And there are similar parallels in prayer, for God has no favourites here, he will not be bullied by your ideas of what is absurd or heretical. What is needed is a heart totally sold on what burns in the heart of this ‘Jesus of the Scars.’ But such a heart comes at a price. What price are you prepared to pay?

You may be the most obedient and sacrificial of us all, but if you refuse to play the wild and beautiful game of prayer, the ship will quietly sail past you in the night and when you are old you will remember your pious theological refusals with bitter regret. For prayer is an ever flowing river and when you dive into it things changes: you change, your environment changes and something shifts in the balance of good and evil because there are things that God cannot do unless you let him do them through you.

Going back to our sporting field analogy; the experience of being in that last five metre zone and seeing the line just there is electrifying and inspires a passionate intentionality in the one who has been there and wants to be there again and again because they know the feeling of scoring. Likewise, the one who lives a life of persistent, faithful prayer acquires a passionate spiritual intentionality, and understands that attack is the best defence. As the months and years go by, those clear moments of astonishing spiritual victory slowly electrify the heart and—rather than looking to build secure little fortresses against the enemy—you want to go back out there again and again because you have seen the darkness defeated so many times. You were there with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and you know what happened, even though you may have been a thousand miles away; or you and your team were inside that five metre zone and you knew for a fact that the ‘push’ and the ‘magic’ came via expectant, persistent prayer.

So … find yourself a personal and intimate ‘prayer field’ somewhere and regularly walk across that chalk line to do battle. Decide that you will not be one who waits for ‘them’ to come to you, but will make a lifestyle of going on the attack in prayer every day. I highly recommend it. And be sure to assert the authority you have from Calvary and from the resurrection. And build it around intercession, for this is not primarily about focussing on your own needs, this is about losing yourself in the deep love of the Father for others and allowing your very soul to be the ‘muscles of Christ’.

It is said that Jesus would often go out early to a lonely place. For the Scottish saints it was a freezing cold mountainside at night where they would wrap themselves in a woollen cloak, lie down and weep as they prayed for every single one of their flock. For St. Brendan it was an ocean beach where he would stand in the shallow water for hours with his hands lifted to the heavens.

So why not give it a try for at least month? Even get a mate to come with you. Many great men and women of faith have made a personal prayer covenant with a friend—but try to keep it a secret between the two of you. Nothing spoils prayer adventures like ‘talking it up’.

Perhaps you could try out some of the routines others have done or maybe you could invent your own ritual: get down on your knees and fast or go and stand in the ocean—plunge into what may feel like childish-arrogance. But remember … this is no Buddhist/ shamanist attempt to manipulate blind and dumb spirit beings with long winded gibberish, this is you—a human being in the flesh—joining in with the unspeakable groans of the Holy Spirit and the high priestly prayers of your resurrected King Jesus who already intercedes for us daily. Remember too that not every ‘voice’ you hear quoting bible verses is from God. The devil quoted scripture to Jesus. So be sure to take with you the sober knowledge of prayer disaster stories; the cold steel of good theology and common sense; the watchfulness of a sentry, the humour of a Chesterton and the honest questions of a community of brothers and sisters.36

One last word. The faith that grows out of a strong life of private prayer is invariably unfettered by pessimism and characterised by an irrepressible (but not naïve) attitude of expectancy because—like an experienced musician—it has acquired an ear for the music of the voice of the Good Shepherd (who is our conductor) and knows the feel and the mood of an approaching crest in a wave, when, if a thing is to be done, you must be ready for the ‘now or never moment’ when power is able to be unleashed through a will that chooses to trust. Then it is finished, and your ‘Yes!’ and ‘Thank you!’ reverberate throughout the realms of the spirit.

Such moments of opportunity often occur while we are in the place of wrestling prayer, but they also float past us in ordinary every day life and and may occur during a cup of tea with a friend in the morning; during a job interview at lunch; while we are laying concrete in the afternoon; or after we go to bed at night. The likelihood of you noticing them will be much higher if you are living out this habit of personal prayer.

Travel Time

It could be that you yourself have made a habit of waiting for ‘them’ to come to you instead of going on the attack. In that case, you may have floated into one of those ‘now or never’ moments by reading this post. So why not make space today to walk for an hour in silence and listen to God? But before you go, pray this prayer: ‘Father in Heaven, please show me if there is an obstacle in my life or a barrier to my mission and ministry that I might have to overcome through an effort of fasting and prayer, occasionally or on a regular basis. If there is nothing like that Lord, then please show me anything else you would like to bring to my attention. Amen.’

36 Incorporating thoughts from the New Testament, George MacDonald, St. Ignatius Loyola & CS Lewis