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One of my favorite authors is Richard J. Foster, who has written Celebration of Discipline and Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. It’s been several years since I read these books, but this morning, I found Prayer on one of my many bookshelves, and decided to get into it again. The first chapter is about Simple Prayer. Prayer for those of us who desperately need to learn or relearn to pray. Prayer for those who don’t even want to pray because we’re distracted, stubborn and self-centered.
Simple prayer is found throughout the Bible. Abraham prayed this way. Joseph, Joshua, David, Hannah, Gideon, Ruth, Peter, James, John, Paul… and many, many others. Ordinary people bringing their ordinary circumstances and concerns to a loving and compassionate Father. There is no pretense, no greater-than-you “holiness.” Just our own self, pouring out our hearts to the Lrod.
We don’t try to be something we’re not. We don’t pretend to be holier, purer or more saintly than we really are. We just begin in the present, in the moment, and perhaps only breathe a short simple thought to God. We can never outgrow this sort of prayer, because we never outgrow our simple, basic need of God.
There are many people around us that can’t wait to kick us when we’re down, to tell us when we’re wrong. But the Father is always willing to take time to hear us; he’s willing to take time and effort to help us. He’s willing and waiting to respond to those simple prayers, for only He knows our heart, really knows us.
Everything we have and everything we are are sheer gifts from God. Even the power to breathe a Simple Prayer.
Andy Stanley, in his book, Creating Community: 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Culture, writes, “… it seems clear that Jesus is saying that loving God and loving your neighbor is what it all comes down to. (Matthew 22) He says everything written in the Scriptures up to that point could be reduced to those two commands. In other words, the activity and instruction of God for all time can be summed up in two things: loving Him and loving others. That’s it. These two activities give evidence of a person’s spiritual growth and maturity.
It’s important to note that the love Jesus speaks of in this passage is not a one-time kind of love. The verb He uses implies continual action. Our love for Him and our love for our neighbors are to be repeatedly and continually expressed. This passage implies that spiritual growth is a process.” (p. 64).
John Wesley, in his doctrine of grace, emphasized the process of God’s grace working in the life of a believer. From prevenient grace, the grace God shows through creation and through the Spirit of God working in the heart and spirit of an unbeliever, to the next step of justifying grace, the grace of God at work at the moment of salvation and then, to the continual movement of God’s sanctifying grace in the life of the follower of Jesus Christ, spiritual life and growth is a process. This process involves our obedience to these two commandments of Jesus Christ, but even more importantly, involves the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts, minds and spirits. Spiritual maturity comes as a person continues in this process of transformation … of growing in love for God, in love for other believers and in loving relationship with others who need to experience the love of Jesus Christ.
Loving God at times seems easy; at other times it seems difficult. Choosing to love other Christians at times is easy, and at times is extremely difficult. Loving people who are very different than ourselves often is the most difficult step. Loving others is not just about doing good, contributing to a charity or to one’s church, helping in a soup kitchen once in a while, dropping clothing and furniture off to Good Will or the Salvation Army. It’s not just about waving politely to a neighbor as we drive by. It’s not just nodding our head or saying hello to someone on the street, although these things are helpful, generous and polite. Loving others takes us out of our comfort zone to actually see the needs of others and begin to do something about them. It takes a level of commitment to justice and social action that will change society around us, and more importantly, will profoundly change us.
Jesus Christ lived so entirely in his present that he was incapable of ignoring the needs of people around him. Only on one occasion do we read in the Gospels that he put aside the needs of some of his dearest friends for several days, in the story of the raising of Lazarus. Living so entirely in the present gave him the unique perspective, discernment and opportunity to act in the most loving ways. We too can live in the present, asking God to give us that perspective, that discernment and that determination to act in loving ways that will help draw people to our Lord. May we be daily challenged to live our lives loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.