Keeping It Personal

Rediscovering the value of prayer in a high-tech world

by: Robert Osborne

It is interesting to note that in many of the recorded instances where Jesus is said to pray, we are not given the substance or content of His prayer. We are merely told that he prayed. Apparently, the content of His prayer was not always the issue. In Mark 8:12 we read that once He merely sighed, a form of prayer seldom considered (see Psalm 5:1, NRSV—“… give heed to my sighing”). A sigh is one of those non-verbal expressions that reveal a lot about what is going on inside of us. A sigh is deeply connected to the state of our heart, and therefore an expression of true prayer when directed to God. Content, it appears, doesn’t always matter. What matters most is not what we say, but how we present ourselves to God. When it comes to prayer, we can never hide behind technique.

PRAYTo state the point another way: Jesus’ prayers were not formulas for getting things from God, but examples of genuine moments of personal intimacy with God. By watching Him pray, we learn that prayer is, in essence, a rehearsal of what is most personal about us. True prayer comes from the deepest part of our souls and not merely from the top of our heads.

I believe we need prayer to keep personal categories central to our lives. When we pray, we are not our job or our status; we are not our bank account or our reputation. We are not even our spoken words. Yes, we search for words, but when we pray, we are just ourselves, unvarnished and unadorned. Along with our words, our sighs have a way of leaking out. And it’s this personal aspect of prayer that I have come to see as more necessary than ever. I say this because the drift toward the impersonal—especially in our embrace of efficiency, technique and performance—is dominating our culture more and more.

In his book Habits of the High-Tech Heart, Quentin Schultze explores the present technological culture and asks what technique is doing to our souls. He asks, “Do we really think there is a method for everything?”[1] It seems we do. For instance, we tend to think about human connectedness as technique. We call it networking. I heard recently that smartphone owners lower their functional IQs because of their constant distraction. They are seldom present in the task or with the person before them, always being somewhere else. We also tend to think about leadership and management as technique. But people see through this. If you are a leader, you soon realize you cannot lead without caring for people. We have even begun to think about personal transformation as technique. Self-help guru Tony Robbins talks about the technology of personal transformation.

With such a bent toward technique, we need prayer more than ever. Prayer is so unlike the technologies. It is highly inefficient, quite wasteful of time and, to all appearances, impractical. We need an image for this, so I like to think of prayer as the woman pouring expensive perfume on the head of Jesus (Matthew 26:6,7)—an act that was criticized by the pragmatists in Jesus’ group. Prayer is poured out soul—beautiful perhaps, but wasteful and gloriously impractical. In terms of time and effort, prayer does not resonate with a practical world. But if you are willing to shift the focus a little, to look at prayer through the lens of the personal, to see what prayer actually reclaims for us, then prayer is both essential and necessary.

Perhaps you have heard Bill Gates’ famous quote: “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”[2] On one level, of course, Bill was right: there are other things to do. But none so personally freeing. In the same way that theologian Marva Dawn calls worship “a royal waste of time,”[3] I am suggesting that prayer is precisely how we recapture our personhood before God, how we find our identity in relationship to our King. Such “wasteful” moments re-establish our true identity and hope. And, perhaps most profoundly, “wasting time” with God helps us escape the imposed identity of contemporary life as cogs in the economic and all too rational machinery we endlessly endure. But somehow we know we are more than our efficiency and usefulness. Somehow, when we waste time with God, we are liberated.

 Some questions for further reflection:

  • How have you been tempted to turn your relationship with God into a technique?
  • What is it about your life that makes it hard for you to pray?
  • Can you name a moment in your life when you felt connected to God in a personal and intimate way? What was the lasting effect of that experience?
  • How can you make your connection with Jesus more personal?

Bob Osborne is pastor of spiritual formation at Westside King’s Church in Calgary, AB. For more information about Robert, and for more of his writing, visit his website.

This article appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2013 issue of testimony, the bi-monthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ©2013. The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

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[1]. Quentin J. Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002).

[2]. Walter Isaacson, “In Search of the Real Bill Gates,” TIME, Vol.149, No. 2 (January 13, 1997).

[3]. Marva Jo Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999).

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