Dynamite for Your Prayer Life
Most denominations are good at encouraging people to go to church. Why? Because this is the place where the sacraments are available, where the Word is proclaimed.
Going to church fulfills one of God’s commandments, and is of absolute importance. However, what about when Jesus said, “when you pray, go to your room and shut the door, and pray to your Father in secret,” (Matt. 6:6) ?
There is a difference between corporate and personal prayer. What most people don’t know is, personal prayer is supposed to be the constant, the daily walk, and what gives life to the corporate prayer.
Nothing could illustrate this better than the covid-19 pandemic. It decisively closed, or made nearly impossible, the ability to “go to church” for millions of people worldwide. People living under atheistic communist regimes, as in China, North Korea, and the former Yugoslavia, will tell you that they dealt with this on a daily basis.
What Makes Someone a Christian?
The fact is, there are times and places in the world where people are not allowed to go to church. Does this mean they are not Christians? It begs the question, what makes a person a Christian? See, being a Christian should make us want to go to church- going to church doesn’t make someone a Christian.
A person is Catholic, or Anglican, etc. if they are baptized, and incorporated into the life of the local Church. It is centred around the sacraments, and attendance. But, a Catholic, Anglican or Baptist, or member of any denomination or non-denominational group, is only a Christian if they believe in Jesus and have a personal, saving relationship with Him, making Him the Lord of their lives.
It is possible to be a Catholic, Anglican, etc. and not be a Christian. Jesus said, “Come, follow Me.”(Lk. 18:22) He said, “if you love me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) This is not simply baptism, or attending church- because He goes on to say (teaching a Jewish priest by the way, Nicodemus) “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (8) A disciple of Jesus looks a certain way. Wow…so many young people are baptized and confirmed, but end up leaving the Church. They never became disciples of Jesus- they were never baptized in the Holy Spirit. That is to say, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit through the efficacious sacraments, but it was never personally accepted by faith, so that it came alive in them.
You can tell when a person is truly a disciple of Jesus. They are unpredictable, obedient to God rather than man, they have a deep prayer life that isn’t by rote or by discipline alone, but rather they want to pray and worship God. They want to lead others to Jesus: "He [Andrew] first looked for and found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah. Andrew brought him to Jesus." (John 1:41-42)
How Do I Begin?
How does a person enter into this discipleship walk with Jesus? It starts with the prayer of surrender (see here)- making Jesus the Lord of one’s life. This “born again experience,” or salvation encounter, or meeting Jesus for the first time personally, however you want to call it, is a totally life-changing experience. Without it, it is truly impossible to be a Christian in the sense we are talking about. How can we follow someone, and hear His voice, and walk with Him intimately, if we haven’t met Him? All the disciples had a moment, an unforgettable, historical moment in time when they met Jesus. If "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever"(Heb. 13:8), should not all Christians have this kind of moment, also? Jesus may not be walking around Israel in one limited physical location anymore, but He is alive and waiting for people to come to Him.
Disciples of Jesus will be able to share their testimony of when they first met Jesus. For me, it was when I was 15 years old, kneeling before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, on a retreat at the seminary. It was for men discerning the priesthood. I realized in that moment, that I had never really asked Jesus to be my one and only, Lord of my life. I wanted to know Him, to serve Him, and so I layed everything down and spoke to Him heart to heart. I instantly felt liquid love flowing over me, as a warm shower, and I felt peace deep inside for the first time in my life. I knew my calling and my mission in life. A dear friend of mine, who is now a priest and military chaplain, had a similar experience on the same day.
For Lee Anne, it happened when she called out to God on the Caledon Mountain. (See here) That was the start for her walk with Jesus.
The incredible American evangelist, Charles Finney, described it thus:
"But as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love, for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out.” (from his Autobiography)
It's not for Catholics or Protestants- it's the beginning of Christianity. A true, living Christianity. St. Francis of Assisi had a supernatural encounter with God that made him abandon a life of wealth, partying and womanizing for a life of following and promoting the love of Jesus. He taught his brothers not to preach in high theological words, but to preach repentance- turning away from sin (which doesn't satisfy) and turning towards Jesus.
See, if people try to be Catholic without a loving relationship with Jesus, it will turn into mechanical, rote religion. This goes for any denomination. The Pharisees believed in God, and practiced all the right religious practices. But they weren’t hearing the voice of God, and following it daily in their lives, like the prophets did. They became wicked.
It is all about having a personal relationship with Jesus- and this is birthed through (1 the surrender experience to Him, and then (2 a daily relationship with Him through reading and meditating on His Word. The reality is, He IS the Word! Pope Benedict said that if the Church could rediscover lectio divina (daily holy reading of the Bible), there would be a new spiritual awakening. This encounter with Jesus bears fruit, gives people the desire to go to church and serve.
Daily Scripture Reading
Jesus actually said, unless we read and keep His Word, we won’t be His disciples. Judas walked with Him, but wasn’t sharing everything with Jesus, wasn’t seeking that Jesus would consume His whole life. He had hidden sins, secret agendas. He had part of his life portioned away for the world, the flesh, and the devil, and a part of his life (his public life) walking with the prophet, the Messiah Jesus.
Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed.” (John 8:31) It is not a Protestant thing, or a Catholic thing- it is a Christian thing. If you want to be a follower of Jesus, His Word has to get on the inside of you. This is something you can do, even if the government says, “no more going to church.”
How will we know His voice, if we are not reading and thinking on His Word? (for instructions on how to begin doing this, see here). Lee Anne always says, “a chapter a day keeps the devil away!” She spent the first 10 years of her walk with Jesus reading a chapter a day of the 4 Gospels. She calls them “the healing Gospels” for all the healing she has received there. Wow…if only more people got into God’s Word. It helps us see more clearly what we are supposed to do in life- “thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105) One word or phrase just stands out, and God makes sure we know it’s Him that is speaking.
Prayers, devotions, the rosary- all are important. Going to church and the sacraments are important. But how can we prepare are hearts for these things, to receive them more efficaciously? By daily communion, intimate fellowship with the Lord in prayer. It’s the secret place of prayer, the place where we are refreshed in the Holy Spirit. (Acts 3:19)
Of course, praise and worship brings the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which empowers us to do life’s daily mission, and what God asks us to do. Calling down the Holy Spirit through praise actually opens our spiritual eyes and ears so that we can truly hear what God is saying through His Word in the Scriptures. That is why the Church always recommends praying to the Holy Spirit before reading the Bible.
See, after the Protestant Reformation, unfortunately there was a cultural reaction in the Catholic Church, where people were encouraged not to read the Scriptures for themselves, as they might misinterpret them. This was for the theologians alone. However, this was never actually taught formally by the Catholic Church- to stop reading daily Scripture- it was an unfortunate cultural phenomenon. But, still you can find many people in the Churc