One on one with John Starke a few deeper prayer life … | The change

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Ed: Why a book on prayer? Have you found any shortcomings in our prayer life in the Church?

John: We live in a performative age. "Performative individualism" describes Sophie Gilbert our society, in which the performance of the self is more important than reality. The most obvious place where this appears is on social media, where we curate our image to give the impression that we are doing well and we are successful.

But there are also forms of performative individualism in our professions, relationships and even in our families. Jesus warns of this by “doing your justice before others” in a kind of performative spirituality. The fruit of this is a culture of hyper-insecurity, lack of self-confidence and deep fear of status.

We are probably all more unconscious of this culture than we think.

The answer to this performative life is a regular, hidden life with God. It is intimidating for many people. When we hear of a “deep prayer life”, they often imagine the one or two people in their church who are mature, or pastors or people who are made up of different spiritual things.

I wrote this book because the Bible imagines prayer as a very ordinary thing for very ordinary people. The entire first half of the book is meant to show that a satisfying and vibrant prayer life is for all who are in Christ.

Ed: What are some of the regular ways and rhythms of a prayer life?

John: After we understand that prayer is possible for us, we learn the ways. That is the concern of the second half of the book, in which I consider six main disciplines: community, mediation, loneliness, feasting and fasting, and corporate worship. These are not complex, but ordinary things.

It's no exaggeration to say that the most transformative thing you can do is to spend time with God regularly without hurry for the rest of your life. What I'm trying to show in the book is that it is possible.

Ed: Who did you find in Scripture as key people who modeled what our prayer life should look like? How can we model these patterns?

John: Jesus gives us a prayer pattern in the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6. This is a good place to start. But Jesus speaks quite a bit about prayer. He teaches us that we should come to God like a Father who likes to give good gifts (Mt 7: 7-11); that we should pray in faith (Mark 11: 23-26); we should pray privately (Mark 12: 38-40); We should implore God like a stubborn widow who comes to a reluctant judge for justice, or like a tax collector who longs for mercy (Luke 18).

But the Church's Prayer Book is the Book of Psalms. Eugene Peterson says somewhere that since the beginning of the Church, Christians have learned to pray by praying the psalms every day. The psalms contain every human emotion.

They teach us how to pray when we are angry, desperate, joyful, depressed, troubled and hopeful. They teach us how to feel or what to say when our life falls apart or when we have just been liberated.

The easiest way to allow the psalms to shape your prayer life is to read a psalm every day and ask how that psalm teaches me to speak to God.

Ed: Let's talk about prayer in these times of Covid-19 and racial injustice. How do we urge prayer now?

John: Covid-19 has taken away a large part of the public and thus performative elements of our lives and has left much of it hidden, which can be of strategic importance for our spiritual growth. It might help to think of it as a seed buried in the ground.

So much happens to a seed when it is buried. It dies, as Jesus says in John 12. It opens up all of the soil's resources and becomes something bigger than it was.

But it had to be hidden to do this. I think these images contain a lot that we have not been able to see and grasp so far.

Racist injustice poses a risk of performative justice. In other words, at the moment Christians are tempted to say the right things on social media to make sure that we are on the "right side" or that we have no work for ourselves.

As soon as our culture is done, so are we. Drawing correct conclusions about racial injustice is one thing, but working against it only as long as culture is careful is worldliness. We need something deeper than "cultural support" to be people of justice.

Justice, especially racial justice, is a long road that often requires many hidden acts of sacrifice and suffering. So much is needed that is invisible. That means we need to know how to work and pray in a hidden way. For many of us it is hard to imagine what this kind of life and work looks like. We need a deep, hidden life for a fruitful, public life.

Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through the Mission Group. The Exchange team contributed to this article.

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