Friday, March 25, 2011

Recollecting prayer

"You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.  You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham...  (Nehemiah 9:6-7 ESV) 

Recently, I've been reading in the book of Nehemiah and observing the work of God among those exiles returning to Judea.  The Word -- read and heard -- prompted widespread confession, joy, prayer, and a renewed covenant among the people to follow the Lord.

Chapter 9 records a lengthy prayer that takes into account God's work from creation to their present circumstance.  I've noticed in Scripture how often prayers review the breadth of God's being and works before coming to any personal request at hand.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls this "recollection"...

... we remind ourselves of the vital importance of the right approach, for this is the key to the understanding of successful prayer. People so often say, 'You know, I prayed and prayed, but nothing happened. I did not seem to find peace. I did not seem to get any satisfaction out of it.' Most of their trouble is due to the fact that their approach to prayer has been wrong ... We tend to be so self-centered in our prayers that when we drop on our knees before God, we think only about ourselves and our troubles and perplexities. We start talking about them at once, and of course nothing happens ... That is not the way to approach God. We must pause before we speak in prayer.

The great teachers of the spiritual life throughout the centuries, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, have been agreed ... that the first step in prayer has always been what they call 'Recollection'. There is a sense in which every man when he begins to pray to God should put his hand upon his mouth. That was the whole trouble with Job ... He felt that God had not been dealing kindly with him, and he had been expressing his feelings freely. But when ... God began to deal with him at close quarters, when He began to reveal and manifest Himself to him, what did Job do? ... He said, '... I will lay mine hand upon my mouth'. And, strange as it may seem to you, you start praying by saying nothing; you recollect what you are about to do.

I know the difficulty in this. We are but human, and we are pressed by the urgency of our position, the cares, the anxieties, the troubles, the anguish of mind ... And we are so full of this that, like children, we start speaking at once. But if you want to make contact with God, and if you want to feel His everlasting arms about you, put your hand upon your mouth for a moment. Recollection! Just stop for a moment and remind yourself of what you are about to do.

(Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, ii, pp. 51-2)

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