Prayer: From Duty to Delight

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The school bus pulls heavily away from our house, and I turn from the door. Through the house I go, switching off lights and turning down the radio that plays constantly to the menagerie in my son’s room. Then I pull out my Bible and settle into the armchair in the living room—and begin the best part of my day. For the next half hour . . . maybe an hour . . . sometimes hour and a half, we talk. He teaches; I listen. He reveals Himself; I worship. I cry; He comforts. I question; He interprets.
It hasn’t always been that way. At one time, my quiet time with God was the most important duty of my day. I planned for it with admirable discPray magazineipline. I felt guilty if I missed it. Now, prayer is the cherished highlight of my day. I eagerly anticipate my time of communion with God and am genuinely disappointed if something interferes. Somewhere along my spiritual journey, prayer evolved from a duty to a delight. If that’s a switch you haven’t yet made, I share these suggestions with you.

Get personal.

I met A.W. Tozer in the cramped aisle of a Christian bookstore in Pennsylvania. His words in The Pursuit of God were riveting: “We have almost forgotten that God is a Person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can. . . . In the deep of His mighty nature He thinks, wills, enjoys, feels, loves, desires and suffers as any other person may.”
God used these words to transform my understanding of Him. He is not just a pervasive force. As the stately hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” declares, He is “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.” As the Word instructs, He is the One in whose image we were created, and Jesus is “the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). We can relate to Him person to Person.

Close the gap.

I’ve come to realize that while God is always present (since He is everywhere), I can be so unlike Him that He is far away from me in character. Tozer wrote in The Attributes of God, “Two creatures may be in the same room and yet millions of miles apart. For instance, if it were possible to put an ape and an angel in the same room, there would be no compatibility, no com- munion, pray magazineno understanding, no friendship; there would only be distance.” In order for two beings so fundamentally different to be close, their natures would need to be made similar.
God’s underlying desire is to be close to us; that’s why He calls us to holiness (1 Pet.1:15). Whether they realized it or not, the saints of the small-town church of my youth had it right when they sang with intensity, “O, To Be Like Thee.” They wanted to be near God, but they needed to be more like Him first. So do we.
Being more like God calls for prayerful self-examination. Is anything—unconfessed sin, ongoing disobedience, unresolved fractures in relationships—keeping God at a distance? Has the Holy Spirit been grieved or quenched (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19)? Seek His forgiveness, and allow Him to transform you into His image.

Sound the depths.

Jesus said, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24). I spent a lot of my early years in Christ worshiping in “feeling and in thought.” I experienced turbulent inner wrestling matches as my will tried to bring my mind and heart into deeper communion with God.
In his book The Release of the Spirit, Watchman Nee writes about the inner man. The outer wrappings, he says, include the mind, the will, and the emotions. Beneath these lies the spirit, where we are one with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17).
Early on, I tried to experience God through the outer wrappings of limited thoughts and changeable feelings, while my innermost being lay numb and unresponsive. When I asked God to sensitize the depths of my spirit to Himself, a deep- er and more constant communion with Him developed.

Let Him Talk.

On long prayer walks through the woods, or in our early-morning quiet time together, I used to spend a lot of time talking to God about the things that were concerning me. Gradually, I realized that it was nearly all about me. My doubts and fears and spiritual struggles were consuming our conversation day after day.
Paul’s admonition to “approach the throne of grace with confidpray magazineence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16) is not an invitation to an egocentric monologue. While Jesus invites us to pour out our hearts to Him, the bottom line is this: He alone is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6). We need to let Him do some of the talking! He will interpret our situations and concerns to us if we will shift the focus onto Him. He will give us perspective if we allow Him to share His heart with us. He will transform what we leave with Him.

Be a pleasure-seeker.

The more I study God’s Word, the more clearly I see that relationship with Him is far more about pleasure than we are comfortable admitting. God gives us “drink from [His] river of delights” (Ps. 36:8). He calls us to delight ourselves in Him (Ps.37:4). He wants the full measure of His joy to be in His disciples (Jn. 15:11, 17:13).
God brings pleasure into the most unlikely places: joy in adversity (Jas. 1:2-4); delight in obedience (Ps. 119:35); glad- ness in weakness (2 Cor. 12:10); accep- tance in loss (Heb. 10:34).
He even calls us to share in the delight He takes in us (Ps. 149:4,5). Perhaps this is the greatest challenge: to embrace the humbling truth that we bring great plea- sure to God. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in . . . seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is” (The Weight of Glory).


In The Gentle Love of the Holy Spirit, A.B. Simpson wrote that “the heart in which He loves to dwell is a quiet one, where the voice of passion and the world’s loud tumult is stilled, and His whisper is watched for with delight and attention.” Simpson’s simple phrase captured my heart. Sometimes my heart swarmed with hurry, worry, or discontentment. Sometimes the Holy Spirit was merely an onlooker, relegated to an out-of-the-way corner. I’ve begun to pay more attention to the living conditions I’m offering my inner Guest, and to cultivate quietness there. I want to make my inner being a place in which He loves to dwell (Rev. 3:20).

Never sign off.

Communion with God is a 24-hour experience. It’s like a two-way radio that’s always left on, making us immediately present to God and He to us. God, however, knows that my “frame is dust” (Ps. 103:13,14). He knows that my faculties are limited, and that, unlike Him, I’m not able to focus completely on infinite (or even several!) things at once. Sometimes I’m focused on work, engrossed in a book,or immersed in conversation with a friend. But I’ve learned that I don’t run away from Him to do these things. He joins me in them. Increasingly, I am aware that He, and my conversations with Him, pervade the dailyness of my life.
These are the things that have moved me toward a deeper communion with God. They have caused me to enjoy that communion. I encourage you to try them. You’re not the only one who will be blessed by the change. There’s Someone who longs to see you move from duty to delight in your prayer life. He’s waiting to enjoy it with you.
SANDY MAYLE is a writer who is active in the prayer and music ministries of her church, Erie First Alliance in Erie, Pennsylvania. Her favorite verse is Jer. 30:21: “‘For who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?’ declares the LORD“ because it reminds her of her life’s purpose.
Used by permission of Pray! Copyright © 2003, Issue 39, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “Prayer: From Duty to Delight”

  1. Sandy, what a beautiful article. Thank you for bringing to the table the thought that God WANTS us to delight in and desire Him, and that our relationship with Him brings Him pleasure. I am going to link to this article from my blog! May God bless your ministry and writing and bring many people into deeper relationship with Himself through your delight in Him.


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