Habits of the Heart: A Study of the Spiritual Disciplines
By Dr. Jack R. Hodges, Jr.
God’s call to salvation in Christ Jesus invites each one of us to respond to Him by faith, receive Jesus as Lord of our lives, and as we enter into an eternal relationship with Him in and through Christ Jesus, we commit ourselves to live for His honor and glory. But that’s just the starting point. If we are to grow into the likeness of Christ as new creations of God, our journey requires a commitment to grow spiritually and practice spiritual disciplines. Last month, I drew attention to the discipline of “meditation.” The spiritual discipline of meditation calls us to enter into the living presence of God for ourselves. It is the “front porch,” so to speak. God invites us into His presence, and we have some preparation to do. We cleanse our thoughts, detach from the noise and demands of our surroundings, lay down our burdens, and open our hearts and minds to receive the presence of the King.
I invite you to look at a second internal “habit of the heart”—prayer. Once we have committed ourselves to come into His presence and have begun to practice the discipline of meditation, we will find ourselves in the presence of Almighty God. Prayer is that moment and that place where we find ourselves face to face with our God, connecting and conversing with our Maker on a deep, intimate level. God, our Savior, calls us and invites us into a deep, intimate, ongoing conversation with Him. We are able to have that conversation because we are His children.
The Psalmist wrote (Psalm 55:1, 16-17), “Give ear to my prayer, O God; And do not hide Yourself from my supplication. Give heed to me and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and am surely distracted…As for me, I shall call upon God, And the LORD will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, And He will hear my voice.”
Eternal God wants us to have and to experience a deep, ongoing, and eternal relationship with Him. And in that relationship, He invites us to both speak to Him and listen to Him as He converses, leads and guides us. The spiritual discipline of prayer, like a conversation, consists of both listening and speaking. Prayer brings us into the deepest work of the human spirit—our loving communion with God, our creator. Real prayer, says, Richard Foster, is “life creating and life-changing.” To pray is to change—for it is through our conversation with God that He seeks to transform us. Foster argues that the “closer we come to the heart-beat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.” The whole discipline of prayer, the whole conversation with God is about changing our hearts, minds, and souls to look like, sound like, and act like Christ. In prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after Him, to desire the things He desires, to love the things He loves, to be passionate about the things that He is passionate about, and to be aware of His wonderful plans and purposes.
Jesus prayed. Mark wrote (1:35), “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” He went to a secluded place and prepared to have that all-important conversation with the Father by detaching from the world—and then He attached to the Father.
Not only did Jesus pray for Himself and ask for God’s presence and power, but He also prayed for others. The Incarnate Lord, the God/man, entered a deeply intimate moment with the Father. He heard the Father’s heart. He spoke His heart to the Father. He understood clearly through each and every conversation what the plans and purposes of the Father were—and then He committed Himself to obediently follow God’s desires. Jesus never concluded any of His prayers with “if it be Thy will.” Neither did any of the apostles nor the Old Testament prophets repeat that phrase when they prayed for others. Clearly, they believed that they knew what the will of God was before they prayed a “prayer of faith.” Indeed, a prayer offered on behalf of another is a prayer of faith! We are believing that God is Sovereign, and He is willing and able to do all that He wants and desires. We are trusting that He will act completely and fully out of His character. What is His character? He is love! He is faithful! He is just! He is good! He will work for His good will and pleasure.
A “prayer of faith” is more than just a conversation. Fueled by Christian compassion, our faith and prayers motivate us to move. Our heart moves us to get personally involved and commit ourself to personally invest in the object or person of the prayer. And that is exactly what the Lord is seeking to do with our lives—He is mobilizing, assembling, marshaling, and calling His people to action and to arms. Again, our hearts, minds, and souls are moved to look like, sound like, and act like our wonderful Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Chip Ingram, in a recent teaching episode, described prayer as “communion with God.” As believers and followers of Jesus, our hearts and souls must long after such daily communion. As so, “Let us pray…!”
Dr. Jack Hodges is the Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Morganton, NC. He has served as a pastor, a biblical counselor and an International Mission Board missionary.