This is the final post in a series walking through Ronald Rolheiser’s book Sacred Fire, which profiles what he calls the 2nd or mature stage of discipleship with Jesus.
The first two posts look at two separate pitfalls common during this stage (pride and the temptation of a 2nd honeymoon), and the previous post looked the struggle of this season of life being disillusionment.
In the previous posts we’ve established that the 2nd stage of discipleship, roughly from ages 25 to 45 and beyond, is one focused on building a life through responsibilities and commitments. How these are focused on by the Christian is different than the previous stage of life, because instead of building a life for yourself, your focus shifts to giving your life away, for the sake of others.
This stage is when years quickly become decades because they’re focused on the kind of growth and success that comes through long-term endeavors. Rolheiser describes them this way: “Our adult years are a marathon, not a sprint, and so it is difficult to sustain graciousness, generosity, and patience through the tiredness, trials, and temptations that beset us through those years…we need help from beyond” (169).
Yes, you need help from beyond, because without it you cannot sustain the necessary strength and energy to keep up when years turn into decades. This strength is found in God through prayer.
The practice of prayer is vital because it provides you with the right amount of strength, to keep you reliant and powerful, humble and confident.
Too often in life you either see yourself in too negative a light or too positive a light. You are either a complete failure or the greatest person to ever live—weighed down or puffed up. Prayer not only connects you with the Almighty God, but gives you a steadying presence. This is why prayer is so necessary. Rolheiser describes it this way:
“We need to pray not because God needs us to pray but because if we do not pray, we will never find any steadiness in our lives. Simply put, without prayer we will always be either too full of ourselves or too empty of energy, inflated or depressed” (171).
But I need to admit to you, I find it hard to pray.
I often have an overwhelming sense that life is passing me by in what can often feel like pointless minutes of prayer. The warmth of God’s presence does not magically fill me as I say the words “Dear God.” Rolheiser says, “Our deepest greed is not for money, but for experience” (202). Prayer often feels like a waste of time instead of worth-while time. Why pray when there’s so much to do?
This question is similar to the concern Mark Galli shared in his recent piece for Christianity Today—that we are too busy to enjoy God’s presence because God’s work is ever before us. Here’s how Galli describes this shift:
One of the jobs of the church is indeed to love the world. But when mission becomes the center, the focal point of the Christian life, I believe that life will inevitably degenerate into an active and busy religious life void of God.
I have noticed many within this 2nd stage of discipleship drawn to the ethos of motivation as their fuel for the way, whether it be in fitness, religion, parenthood, or life in general. Not far from the slogan of Nike (“Just do it!”), many are parroting and drawn to the message of “You can do this!” But this fuel cannot sustain, because it ultimately tempts you to prop yourself up, before you eventually fail. Left to your own strength, failure is the inevitable outcome.
Thankfully prayer is not this kind of fuel for the way. In fact, it is not fuel, it is a person. Prayer connects you with the presence of God. It does not prop you up, it props Him up. Prayer does not lead to an inevitable letdown, because it never created an unsustainable way to live.
Grace Naessens describes the importance of prioritizing prayer in a poem, and this summary is a helpful reminder from the beginning of what accomplishments deserve your focus:
I woke up early this morning and paused before entering the day;
I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.