I have started by reading some books, "Becoming a man of prayer", "Too busy not to pray" and "A mighty prayer". I am also doing the prayer circling that is based on a book by the same name together with Laurie.
The next step after that will be to mine the depths of the church fathers and the rich history and tradition of prayer within the historical church.
But I would like to tell you what I have found to be one of the key features of prayer. I learned it one night when I met a demon.
I was in bed at my home in Norway. It was in the middle of the night and I was sound asleep. At some point in the night I started to dream and it was fairly vivid. Considering I can still remember it after several months, I would argue that is was very vivid.
I was in a small room that looked very much like a room monks or nuns use in medieval monasteries. Bare and whitewashed walls, a bed up against a wall and perhaps a cross on the wall above the bed. My son David was in the bed and he was asleep. I was sitting next to the bed and I believe my wife was also there, but in the background, perhaps by the foot of the bed.
All of sudden my son started moving in the bed. That in and of itself is very common as he always moves in real life. This, however, was different. It seemed as if something was bothering him.
(I didn't think of it in the dream but when David first came home to us from China he would sometimes sit straight up in bed in the middle of the night and literally fight something. He would punch in the air, still asleep, and make noises that sounded like he was struggling. That has a dramatic story to it as well.)
I tried to comfort him and gently touch his arm but he kept struggling. In my dream, I knew that something really bad was trying to cause him harm and/or scare him. Suddenly I heard my wife's voice tell me to look behind me on the wall by the foot-end of the bed. I turned and saw what appeared to be letters of fire being written on the wall. One by one letters appeared but before they could make up a word I woke up.
And that is when the strangest thing happened.
I knew without a shadow of a doubt that:
a) I was wide awake in my bed in my house in Norway.
b) What had been happening in my dream still kept going. The events of my dream "carried over" into reality...and by the events I mean the clear and present reality that something, in reality, wanted to hurt my son. In the middle of secular Norway.
I was in the middle of an unseen struggle and although I am sure that it sounds crazy I know that it was real. I could hear my wife breathing and I could see the familiar sights in my room when I opened my eyes. (The reason I had opened my eyes was to see if there was actually something visible in my room. There wasn't.)
But I didn't have time to dwell on whether or not something was going on. I knew it was and I knew that it was extremely real and very, very dangerous and that my son was in danger.
On a side note, I have a long history of horrific and demonic nightmares and I know what it is like to have very vivid dreams. It was always very strange to my parents because I had a very "benign" childhood and was never exposed to violence or horror movies and the like. Even the church I attended regularly didn't exactly instil the fear of God in me and it never brought up hell, demons or anything like that.
To make a long story short I was delivered from those dreams by God on Holy Saturday night at the Wilmore Free Methodist Church, easter of 2001 (if I recall correctly).
However, back to my story. One of the things I have learned about my dreams is that I can actually decide what I want to do in them...and what I wanted this time was to pray. What else could I do against an unseen opponent? How do you struggle against what is unseen?
So I did the equivalent of what any father would do when their child was in danger. I went to war and prayed for my son as if I was charging to defend him against a roaring lion and it sends chills down my body just to tell you the story.
I had never experience anything like what happened. Two things became incredibly clear from the beginning:
1. Whatever it was that was opposing me was not only real but it also had a will. It felt as if it (almost) talked to me and it changed tactics and methods continually, looking for a weak spot. Also, it was entirely evil and had absolutely no compassion or patience. It wanted to do "von Klausewitz" no-mercy war.
2. My prayers were the only thing that stood in its way of achieving what it wanted to achieve.
I prayed my heart out because I was not going to lose.
Picture a city with a high defense wall and a ferocious and furious attacker outside, looking for a way to break down the wall and come in to bring his horror. That's what it was like...and I learned something incredibly important during this battle or whatever we want to call it.
Now, as you can imagine, as a pastor I know something about prayer. I know theology. I know pious phrases. I can string pretty words together to make a point look good. Pastors and prayer go together like peanut butter and jelly. They just fit.
But what I learned was something I knew in my mind but all too often had forgotten in real life. I call it disconnected praying. In my struggle for my son's well-being I found out that the instant my prayers stopped coming from my Jesus soaked heart (which is just a pretty word for "the middle of my soul and being) the enemy seized the opportunity and came raging around that defense wall to break it down. He just kept looking for a way in and I just kept building a defense wall around my son.
It didn't matter if they were prayers I had learned from other people, Bible verses or just my own words. If whatever I was praying was not out of a "heart" of absolute faith in God and a complete and total abandon to His power it was 100% meaningless. I might as well have prayed my grocery list. I had nothing.
The struggle went on for quite a long time and every time my prayers would slip into auto-pilot or, you know, just leave my mind without going by my heart (Jesus called this rambling words) the enemy was right there and I had an immediate and terrifying reason to shape up and get my act together and pray as if Jesus was real, as if I meant it and as if my son's well being depended on it.
The intensity and the sincerity of what was going on made the whole experience extremely clear. There was no grey. There was no "maybe". I remember that I knew exactly what was going on and exactly what needed to be done. So I kept fighting and the battle kept raging on.
I don't know how much time passed but I know it was several minutes, perhaps 15, and I sensed that the enemy wasn't as ferocious as before. My words had subsided and I was now fully dependant on God. Jesus was all I had and all I needed. I simply wasn't gonna lose the fight.
The rage and the evil that had tried to hurt my son, and might I add had been extremely upset that I had stepped in to defend my son, was slowly subsiding. Soon it was only a annoying remnant that knew it was defeated but didn't really want to leave. I had learned to pray in an unseen battle arena and I had learned my lesson well. For all intents and purposes the battle was over and the entity that wanted to hurt my son was on his/her/its way to leave. I had been powerless and was almost defeated, and surely and resoundly, would have been if I hadn't remembered the words of Jesus.
Pray in my/Jesus's name (which is not the same as saying "-In Jesus name, Amen" after you pray. The key word is in.)
At that point I quietly woke my wife and told her what was going on. As you can imagine, she wanted to check on her son. I knew that he was out of danger and told her so, but she went to his room anyway. Of course.
When she returned she told me the strangest thing. My son was born with a huge cleft lip and palate that even though it has been fixed through surgery makes him quite loud when he sleeps. My wife told me that when she went into his room he was all quiet...quiet enough that she had to put her hand under his nose to see if he was breathing. She couldn't tell so she put her hand on his chest...and at that point he let out this semi-gutteral, semi-snoring sound and resumed his normal breathing.
Now, I tell you this story to tell you what I have learned about prayer so far.
Prayer is incredibly powerful and perhaps our only offensive "weapon" in our Biblical struggle against the dark powers of the Enemy of everything good.
Prayer is only effective when it is coming from and out of the heart of a person completely and utterly dependent on God.
Words matter but again, they are absolutely meaningless unless they belong to someone who believe them as fully as they believe that gravity is real. Even the word "Jesus" meant nothing if I didn't attach the true meaning of the word to the letters. There is nothing magical about stringing letters together. The power is in the name, not in the letter, and by that I mean that the power is in the real but unseen person Jesus, the second divine person of the Trinity.
I, and we, have nothing and no power. We live in an age when human power is everything and sometimes the church get caught up in this way of thinking. Successful pastors are those with big churches. We can do God's work and save the world. We have Powerpoint and world-class business models to follow. It just takes hard work and ingenuity.
I say no. We have no power. We have nothing...and only then are we able to enter into God and his kingdom where his power is without limit. Even to the point of keeping a feeble pastor and his son safe from an attack from the dark side.