Autumn Reading: Paul E. Miller’s ‘A Praying Life’

PrayLifeGod has always used books to bless me and mold me. The most recent is Paul E. Miller’s A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World.

I read this section tonight, thoroughly enjoying Miller’s summarizing of the Christian life. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s challenging. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s thought-provoking.

I thought I would share.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 is a blueprint for getting in touch with your self-will and letting God take control. Jesus introduces us to what it means to be a child of our heavenly Father. To understand the sermon, think of your life as a room filled with open doors called money, sex, power, and fame.

Jesus begins the sermon by telling you he is going to go through your life and close all the doors to human power and glory. In the Beatitudes he says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). In other words, he is saying, “Give up power in relationships, and I will show you an entirely different way to do life. Don’t be afraid of being a codependent, of disappearing. I will take care of you.”

In the rest of chapter 5 Jesus closes one door after the other. He tells you to empower your enemies, those who abuse you, to think of their needs (5:43-47). If you suspect that someone is irritated with you, don’t wait for that person to come to you; go to him or her even if it isn’t your fault (5:23-24). Jesus closes the door to revenge, even emotional revenge through distance (5:38-43). And when you are selling something, don’t try to get power over people by using oaths or by promising more than you can deliver (5:33-37). He closes the door to a secret life of sexual pleasure by telling you to remove your eye if it is looking at women to use them (5:27-30). If you do what Jesus says in chapter 5, you start to feel spiritual.

In chapter 6, Jesus deals with wanting to look spiritual. He tells you to keep your prayer life hidden so you don’t use it to make yourself look good. If you pray, do it in private (6:5-8). If you fast, pretend you don’t (6:16-8). If you give, don’t tell anyone (6:1-4). Don’t use spirituality as a means for getting power and glory. Jesus closes the door to getting our identity from your own righteousness.

Then Jesus closes the door to getting your security from money. Instead, he says, give your money away (6:19-24). Now that you’ve lost the security of money, you begin to panic an say, “Who’s going to take care of me?” Jesus says, “Your Father will. Look at the lilies of the field. Seek my Father’s kingdom first.” So not only do you have to give up money, but you have to give up worrying about money (6:25-34). Two more doors close to human power and glory.

As you begin chapter 7, you have a new view of the world. You’ve learned how to put God at the center. Everywhere you look, people are so caught up with stuff. Now Jesus taps you on the shoulder and says, “Stop judging. When you see someone else’s sin, instead of using that information to correct them, use that information to humble yourself by first finding the beam in your own eye.” Instead of using your insights into other people’s issues as a spiritual hammer, Jesus wants you to take these insights and deepen your own repentance (7:1-5). Argh! How do I do life?

Having closed all your doors, Jesus opens  the door to prayer and tells you how he gets things done (7:7). He asks for help from his Father. He talks to his Father and tells him what he wants. Prayer is the positive side of the surrendered will. As you stop doing your own will and wait for God, you enter into his mind. You begin to remain in him … to abide. This is the praying life. (Miller 158-160)

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