I remember a time in my younger spiritual life when imagination and prayer were wedded in unity. I would often imagine myself robed in purple cloth, clad over armor, kneeling at the throne of God. I would utter words of spiritual battle and stand poised in attention for any directive His Majesty would send my way. God has significantly rooted pride out of my prayer life since then, and that means that there’s not much left of my early zeal. Sadly, the imagination has gone with it. When I try to come back to spiritual battle gear, it all now seems like fantasy. It probably was much of that and a little of Holy Spirit power. I’d like to grow more in my prayer life, but I’m not sure God wants me to go back to armor and robes. I sense rather that there is much more of sackcloth and ashes ahead.
In the journey of growth I think I share with many Christians 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 lately at all, actually. We shouldn’t be surprised, 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.
But 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? How do we catch ourselves before the crisis? How do we turn a desire to pray into a deep well of nourishing drink? And what does a powerful humility look like in a mature prayer warrior? Let’s see what we can discover from the Acts 4 prayer.
At its core the Acts 4 prayer is about courage and healing (4.29-30), and it seems to me that prayer runs right down both of these lines. It takes courage to pray and personal healing follows in its wake, also vibrant prayer is a marker of spiritual health, and it produces courage. Healing and courage both fund a life of deep prayer as much as prayer heals and emboldens. The reason, I think, therefore why a prayer life can be a challenge is that courage is hard won, and we are often wounded far deeper than we realize.
The Acts 4 prayer, remember, comes on the tail end of apostolic bravery against their most revered figures of authority. The priests and the captain of the temple guard (echoes of the Gethsemane mob crop up here) came up to John and ultimately threatened them to their core. 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 courage though was first born out of failure. Read the gospels. Be very careful no to mistake zeal with courage. The most striking thing, though, 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 prior, now they were ready to swallow threats. We might say that Jesus had healed them.
There’s much more to say here about these things, including the clear relationship between the apostle’s assurance of God’s Sovereignty and their steadfast willingness nonetheless to pray for something which God seemed to have already given them, in this case courage.
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 (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 ministry.