December 11, 2012

What is a three-dimensional prayer life?

J. Hudson Taylor who lived from 1832 to 1905 comes to mind as one of many Christian leaders through the centuries whose spirituality has been rich in all essential aspects, deeply devout, refined in character and vigorously engaged in a worthy cause in the world. Hudson Taylor was the founding director and the illustrious pioneer of the innovative and strategic China inland mission known today as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. His Christ-centered piety, his Christ-centered spirituality is described most fully in a book entitled Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret written by his son and daughter-in-law. It goes without saying that prayer is a central aspect of genuine Christian spirituality. In its larger sense prayer is about cultivating a reverent awareness of the presence of God in all of life. An integrated spirituality, however, the kind we have been talking about and want, requires a balanced prayer life; it requires a three dimensional prayer life. If we are honest we will admit that a lot of our prayers consist of asking God to do things that we want done and delivering to us, giving to us things that we want to have, but keeping company with God involves quite a bit more than just asking him for things.

Now, Richard Foster has written a wonderful book on prayer in which he identifies about twenty different kinds of prayer. People are often surprised to discover that there can be so much variety in prayer. Richard Foster divides these kinds of prayer into three categories and it is interesting how these categories of prayer correspond very closely to our three dynamics. In the first category, an integrated prayer life will include prayers that move upward seeking intimacy with God. Included in this group are prayers of adoration, prayers of rest, prayers of meditation and contemplation. The second category of prayers consists of those through which we look inward seeking personal transformation. An integrated prayer life will include prayers here of self-examination, prayers of tears, prayers of relinquishment, prayers of formation. And prayers in the final grouping all look outward with others and ministry in mind. They include petitionary prayers, intercession, authoritative prayer and radical prayer of holy dissatisfaction with the way things are. Now, since all three kinds are essential to spiritual health, we need to practice them all, not just a personal favorite or two. Even our prayer life then should be intentionally three dimensional.