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Prayer: Bite on the Nail  -   Scott Lyons

Prayer: Bite on the Nail  -   Scott Lyons
12/8/2010


 I have written about why a prayer rule is a legitimate, healthy, and even necessary discipline (necessary because it instructs, encourages, and guides us in prayer). I have written about how to begin a prayer rule by using one that others have formulated in centuries past or one that you compile yourself. And while I recommend the former over the latter, I’m most concerned that you simply begin to pray. The demons do not want you to pray; your own heart turns away from it—following a rule of prayer is ascesis (struggle, work, discipline). The purpose of having a rule is to habituate oneself to prayer, so that it becomes an integral part of each day. A prayer rule sets aside a portion of each day for prayer to quiet ourselves before God and present ourselves to him—not just with narrow prayers or "Help, God!" prayers, though those are beautiful and also essential. The purpose is to conform one's heart to prayer and find rest in Christ. Here we can drink from the well that never fails. Here we commune with God. And he is love.

Perhaps you have begun your prayer rule. What next? Acedia is next. Acedia has been called the noonday demon. Acedia is growing weary of good work in the midst of it, not because of exhaustion, but out of boredom and disinterest. You will not feel like praying your rule. Doubts will buffet you. There will be interruptions. You will think of better things to do with the little time you have (things that need doing). You will stay up too late and be physically tired when it is time to pray. But you must be firm in your resolve. If you have a planner that you use to organize your day, then schedule your prayer rule. Be ruthless with yourself. Unwavering discipline is essential when you begin and for the first few months until it is part of the rhythm of your life—until your heart knows that you need it, which is reality.

Hemingway said of writing, "Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail." So it must be with your prayer rule. Consider what it is like to begin exercising or dieting or some other act to improve your life. These kinds of changes require real work.

I have recently begun a diet with my wife so that I can, Lord willing, live a long life and enjoy my grandchildren. But I am discovering that bad eating habits—bad thoughts about food—are not as easily shed as weight. Losing weight isn't terribly difficult for most of us. However, if you cannot get your lust for food under some kind of control, then it's all entirely temporary. That's what I am working on, controlling my evil desires, disciplining my stomach.

The same is true for the hard work with prayer rules—following a rule of prayer is not simply thinking that prayer is good and therefore I ought to pray. No, the heart has got to know it. You have to understand your poverty, your great need; you must keep in focus the necessity of prayer for communion with God. Understand it as it is, a matter of life and death. We must be devoted to our devotions. Often they spring to life quickly and forcibly with the passion of young lovers. But unless you lay a proper foundation, your devotion will fade as quickly as it sprang to life. Lay the foundation of good habit as quickly and as ruthlessly as you can. Use the passion you have, while you have it, but understand that it will burn away like fog in the noonday sun. And soon you'll be sitting in front of your prayer rule, wondering why you're doing what you're doing, thinking of everything, anything, but prayer. Wanting— needing—to be elsewhere. Don't give in. Pray. Bite on the nail.