Almighty God, the Giver of wisdom, without whose help resolutions are vain, without whose help study is ineffectual, enable me, if it be thy will, to attain such knowledge as may qualify me to direct the doubtful, and instruct the ignorant, to prevent wrongs, and terminate contentions; and grant that I may use that knowledge which I shall attain, to thy glory, and my own salvation, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
-Dr. Samuel Johnson
I do not want to study prayer in vain. I do not want to grow in prayer to be a better Christian. I feel, at this point in the learning process, that there is temptation to make this discipline about me. With most resolutions or goals, the emphasis is usually placed on ourselves. In this case, though, it seems ironic for the focus to be on me.
Most of my life, my thoughts and my actions, have been self-centered. I wanted to grow in prayer to redirect my perspective. I wanted to see God more clearly and know him better. Little by little, I see that happening. But at the same time, I see tiredness setting in. I’m two weeks into this practice, and the excitement has worn off. Learning about prayer feels like work now. And I think that’s good. We need to develop our capacity for work and for consistency. Recently, a friend said something to me about growing roots. We talked about how many friends our age aren’t interested in that idea – we’d rather create lots of experiences, jumping from place to place, adventure to adventure. Years ago, people found their forever-jobs and forever-homes at this age. Today, we have five different jobs before we’re 30.
I say all this to remind myself that putting in the work is worthwhile. Relationships take work, community takes work, and meaningful work takes work. If I am working for the sake of success, though, I’m missing out on what God has to offer. If I seek God as the “Giver of wisdom”, and I ask him to guide my work, I can trust that whatever fruit is produced is good fruit. I become part of God’s bigger story. When I submit my work to him, I’m able to influence others with integrity because what comes out of my mouth is enabled by him.
In Samuel Johnson’s prayer, we see something else important, though. To know God’s wisdom and good work, we must be ones who study and seek out knowledge. We know God is the ultimate Teacher, but again, we must be willing to put in the effort of learning.
Practically speaking, this work means consistency. Putting effort into prayer means I do it often and I do it even when I don’t want to. It means that I struggle through Psalms and other sections of God’s Word when I don’t understand what’s written there. I ask questions, I let the Spirit guide me, and I allow my previous opinions to be quieted. That’s hard work. It takes time and energy, and it means other desires get put on hold for a little while.
God is a faithful teacher and leader. We can trust that he will show us the way and that he’ll give us the necessary wisdom for each instance. But we must say yes to the work.
Father, I’m committing to studying your Word and learning from you. Give me endurance and consistency; allow me to stick with the difficulty of this discipline. Bring me from duty to delight, and let me see fruit from this process. I trust that you will guide me in knowledge and wisdom and that you’ll allow me to lead others through those gifts. Continue to lead me, God.