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Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ. So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honourable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always. Follow the example of all that we have imparted to you and the God of peace will be with you in all things.
The Passion Translation
Over the last week, I’ve kept coming across these verses. I really like them and often speak them to myself. But when I have stumbled across them a few times recently I have thought again about some of their meaning, especially in this season where prayer and praying has more emphasis because of Lent and also because of the deep need that most of us have for a greater awareness of God’s presence in troubled times.
One of the things that has struck me is the way that our prayer life is not simply made up of big requests but also an attitude of thought. I have a number of big asks that I bring to God daily. It’s like I’m wanting to chip away at these issues and I hope that daily prayer will somehow be effective. I know that persistence is absolutely one of the variables that we see in the bible as being effective in prayer. But I realise that these big boulders of need or impasse or worry take up my thought life as I pray and I can finish by feeling more blocked or anxious than I did when I first opened my mouth to talk to God.
I often miss the thankfulness bit – the ‘overflowing gratitude’. I don’t have time or inclination to consider the good things; not when there is a consuming problem that I am desperate to bring to God in prayer. I think that my prayers end up being a focus on opposition and difficulty (and asking God to magically make them go away), rather than finding who Jesus is once again, appreciating that, relaxing into it and then trusting him to lead me, whatever life’s terrain is at that particular moment.
I then read an article about the atomic changes that bring about big change over time, using the British cycling team as an example. They made tiny changes – not just to technique – but to sleep, clothing, bicycle care; in fact all kinds of very small factors. This led to massive change in performance and ultimately the winning of medals. (Atomic Habits by James Clear)
When I think of praying – especially bringing my requests to God – I have often missed the attitude of mind and heart that can accompany this – thinking about what is “authentic and real, honourable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind.” These may be smaller things and lead to much smaller prayers – which are a mix of gratitude and request – but they lead to peace in a way that hammering away at what seems impossible each day simply cannot do.
I realise it is far better to fasten my thoughts onto every glorious work of God and let prayers come from that. Like the desire to lose some weight or get fit, praying for 1 percent changes rather than a sudden miraculous intervention, not only can lead to the big barriers being ultimately removed, but the process of this – in prayer, reflection, handling my heart and mind, getting to know Jesus – becomes a glorious work in itself. Both journey and destination are then important and satisfying, even if there is still opposition and disappointment on the way.
So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honourable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind.
Martin J Young