For nearly ten years now I have kept a prayer journal. My prayers are not organized like some people’s. Rather, my prayers are very disorganized. Only the dates at the top right corner of each page give me any context to previous prayers. It is in large part due to my general disorganization that I tend to write out my prayers. Writing forces thoughts into shapes.
Toward the beginning of each year, I often flip through my prayers from the past and reflect on the Spirit’s ever sanctifying work on my soul. This year, as I was doing so, I noticed a troubling trend. I found repeated phrases such as, “God, keep me from ever,” “God, grant me grace again for,” or “God, I am still struggling to…”. I would repeatedly pray in these generalized terms. I would ask God to resolve an issue and then move on only to find the issue was still an issue in the next prayer. As I read these prayers, my mind would fill in the blank journal lines that separated each prayer. In those undated, wordless spaces between entries, I knew my various struggles with sin and self still grew and thrived.
I remember from a young age my father constantly telling me, “Be diligent in the little things.” This was often from me neglecting to do my homework. I already had learned the information; I could ace the paper and the exams, and end up with a decent grade. Why should I bother with the busy work? That’s how I lived, and it was also reflected in my prayer life.
I believe in grace. I believe that right now and forever I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I believe that when God looks at me, he sees Jesus. I also know that, despite my belief, I still sin. I get weary. I get weighed down. Far too often, I feel the Spirit convicting me of sin and self-centeredness followed by his gentle goading towards holiness.
A major problem with my prayers, as I have said, was that I often prayed in generalizations. I prayed that God would forever free me from depression or a particular sin. I would then continue to go about my life expecting God do His work. I was expecting, but not depending. Hence the blank spaces in my journal, and hence the same heart-broken prayer to follow a few days later when sin and depression returned. While I know the big picture (being that I am eternally in Christ), I forget that right now I exist in time which is made up of moments. It is in these moments that I am called to reflect the character of Christ.
It is minutes and seconds that compose holiness.
I think it is important that Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). I believe this sets the tone for the rest of the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). At the start of the prayer, Jesus prays in general for God’s eternal glorification, the advancement of God’s Kingdom, and the execution of God’s will on earth (Matthew 6:9-10). However, I believe when Jesus asks for daily bread, he is calling for his people to a daily dependence on God for their daily needs. God’s people are to daily ask for provision; daily ask forgiveness of sin; daily ask protection from temptation and the evil one. Jesus is teaching his people to daily depend on God for their needs which primarily include their holiness. Jesus is calling his people to do their daily homework of grace, not just pass the exam of conversion.
I no longer only pray in generalizations; that God would deliver me from this or that forever, or that God would forever meet whatever present need is on my mind. I do still hope in many instances that God’s sanctifying work would be permanent. And, I do think that there are many general things Christians should still pray for. However, when it comes to my personal holiness, I no longer pray that God would make me forever holy. I already know that I will fail, and that is why I need Christ. Now, I just pray that God would make me holy for today, and that is enough because forever includes today.