Thursday, June 28, 2012

Praying from the Heart and the Mind

"My heart is steadfast, O God; 
I will sing and make music with all my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
and let your glory be over all the earth." 
Ps. 108: 1-5

What a month June has been!  It began with the ending of school for my children and then saying good-bye for now to our many friends.  The middle of the month was dominated by a 3300 mile trek across America.  The last week has been completely filled with unpacking, trying to get a house in order, and now preparation for my installation as pastor of First CRC in Seattle.  

Today is the first day all week I awoke early.  I have been so tired and weary after the traveling and then the let down from lost adrenaline after we arrived.  This beautiful sunny morning I was gazing at the sun coming up over the mountains and I had an hour of quiet to pray and seek the Lord's face.  What a blessing!

I found that my mind is dull from a busy week.  I just could not focus clearly on all that I needed to do.  Yet, my heart is needy for my Lord.  When I am weary, I have nothing to give in prayer.  My mind is slow.  Yet, my heart is open when I take time to confess my need and take in the Lord's blessings.  I believe the Lord likes it when we pray with both our hearts and our minds.  Today is a prayer from the heart kind of day!

What is the difference between prayers of my heart and prayers of my mind?  I know in a world without sin there will be no difference.  Yet, in my fallen state, I find there is!  I also find that explaining this difference is difficult, but I will try!

Prayers of my mind come all the time.  As I am walking through life, I notice things around me and I speak with God about them.  I find I often pray about my life, my family, my ministry, and my needs.  Notice how often "my" is in there!  I also pray for people I know and think about.  What I find interesting is that with these prayers I can move through life without really engaging with my God.  In my arrogance, I am informing God about His universe.

Now, this is not the worst thing in the world.  There was a time when God did not enter into my perspective on anything.  These prayers of my mind show me that God has penetrated my thoughts and worldview.  I am thankful that I often pray in this manner!  Still, there is something more if I really want to grow in depth as a person, a believer, and a servant of the Lord.

Growing deeper in Christ is what I am pondering this morning.  When my heart informs my mind, prayer is powerful, effective, and life-changing.  When my mind tries to change my heart, it seems to seldom work as I intend.  In fact, it can become rote and boring.  In my opinion, the only life-changing power that can transform our tendency toward rote, dry prayer is what I am calling the prayer of the heart.

Notice in today's Psalm, "I will sing and make music with all of my soul."  Here the Psalmist is speaking of the core of his being, what can be called both our heart or our soul.  He is affirming that he is praising God from the core of his being.  Many of us in the West misunderstand the importance of this concept.  We believe that we make up our mind, and then act according to our decision.  This presupposes our mind is free and clear to make rational choices.  The biblical understanding is different.  It argues that from the heart flows the life that empowers all we do.  It is the seat of will or volition.  It is the core of our being.  It is what informs our mind, shapes our thoughts, and ultimately determines our actions.  As Jesus encourages and warns us in Luke 6: 45 "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil out of the evil stored in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."  

The Psalmist is using the tool of music to bring his heart or soul into praise of God.  How does he do this?  By focusing his whole being on the love and faithfulness of God.  In other words, but focusing upon the truth of the gospel and allowing it to penetrate deeply within his heart.  I believe the only thing that can change our rebellious and hard hearts is love.  It is a powerful and intoxicating motivator between us as individuals, and it is even more powerful and intoxicating when we find ourselves falling in love with Christ.  When we know in the core of our being the love of God, it changes us.  It prompts our love for God.  It transforms our decision making.  It drives us to ministry and service not out of fear, but out of thanksgiving for God's love for us.  We find ourselves affirming, "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth!"

So, how do we enter into this prayer of the heart?  Ask God for it.  Repent of our self-effort and the sin that we often prefer to God's presence.  Ask for mercy and love to transform you.  Ask that He would allow you to pray with your whole being.  As you do these things, the Holy Spirit will begin to teach you as your ask.  Find others who have walked this journey before you and ask them for advice.  Read the Psalms reflectively, slowly, and with a listening ear.  Do not give up into the gospel penetrates deep within your heart.

There is so much more to say, but I repent of my desire to say it!  Please begin to pray from the heart.  The following is a sample, though shallow prayer to give an example. 

Lord, forgive me for the busyness of my mind and scattered nature of my thoughts.  
       Father, You are with me.
Lord, have mercy upon me as I need your love more than all I think will bring me life.  
       Christ have mercy. 
Lord, lead me to meet with you and transform me by your love.
       Holy Spirit lead me to know you and to meet with you.

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