I remember a time in my younger spiritual life when I was quick to wed together imagination and prayer. I would often imagine myself as a warrior robed in purple cloth, clad over with armor, kneeling at the throne of God. I would offer words of spiritual battle and stand poised in attention for any directive that His Majesty would send my way. God has significantly rooted pride out of my life of prayer since then. Unfortunately that means that I have left behind some of the imagination. When I try to come back to that spiritual battle gear, it can sometimes seem like fantasy. I’d like to grow more into my prayer life, but I’m not sure that that means going back to armor and robes. I sense rather there is more of sackcloth and ashes ahead instead.
Many Christians share a feeling of disconnection with prayer, in the same way that many husbands feel disconnected with their wives; we think we’re doing alright until some small argument leads to an all out fissure. We thought we were doing well, but maybe we haven’t paid much attention to our wives, or God actually, lately at all. We shouldn’t be surprised by it, but we are. The erosion of our prayer life creeps up upon us until we can’t remember the last time we felt engaged in prayer. And all of the sudden prayer is to us a distant impossibility.
When the early followers of Jesus prayed for boldness, the earth quaked (Acts 4.23-30), and they proclaimed the word courageously. Why should it be any different for us today?
At its core, the community prayer in Acts 4 is about courage and healing (4.29-30). It seems to me that every good prayer runs right down both of these lines. It takes courage to pray and personal healing often follows in its wake. Also vibrant prayer is a marker of spiritual health, and it produces courage. Healing and courage both encourage a life of deep prayer. The reason why a prayer life can be a challenge, I think, is that courage is hard won, and we are often wounded far deeper than we realize. If we want to be better pray-ers, we should wok on courage and healing.
The Acts 4 prayer, remember, comes on the tail end of an act of apostolic bravery against the most revered figures of authority. In Acts 4, the priests and the captain of the temple guard approach Peter and John and give them an ultimatum: stop preaching in Jesus’s name. But they were bold and offered this in response: “which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or Him” and “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under haven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (4.12). This took a lot of courage. But it was a courage borne out of cowardice. Read the gospels.
The most striking thing about these verses is that the rulers noticed a strange incongruity in their interactions with the apostles: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus” (4.13). Jesus’s courage had finally rubbed of on these men, and though they had deserted him before, now they were ready to swallow threats. We might say that Jesus had healed them.
I think that if we want to become prayer warriors in the mold of these disciples, we need to spend as much time with Jesus as possible, studying the portraits we have of him in the gospels, including him in our daily patterns of thought, and joining him in the places were he works in the world (places often marked by darkness and injustice). When we do we will find that he is always giving one eye to establishing his kingdom and the other to healing us and teaching us to be brave. Want to pray more? Spend some time reflecting on and even journaling about how God has been healing you and working on your courage. Though this type of spirituality takes patience and endurance (why wouldn’t it), we shouldn’t be surprised when we wake up one day and find ourselves strong and well enough to spend more of our time in prayer and less in anxious production.