He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
Like the proverbial dust in the wind that inspired so many of my generation, much of my young adult life was spent wandering. Hitchhiking back and forth across North America, backpacking in Europe, moving from one communal house to another, at one point I calculated that the longest I had stayed in one place over the course of five years was six months. My life was like a ball bouncing on the pins of a roulette wheel as it spins around. Eventually the wheel slows down and the ball falls into a slot, and I too finally settled down, got married, raised a family and established a career. In other words, after years of unsettledness, my life finally became “rooted and established.”
I see a similar process happening in our relationship to prayer. For many people, prayer is a destination that attracts them from a distance. They might circle this attraction for years, keeping it topical, reading books to kindle the heart. As we move in and out of relationship to this hope it’s easy to wonder if we will ever take this invitation seriously. Will it ever become established in us as we sense it desires to be?
Fortunately, by God’s grace, people do eventually become rooted in the life-discipline of prayer. Something finally quickens their conviction that this is a call they must respond to more seriously than they have. Like the ball bouncing on the roulette wheel, they finally fall into its slot. Prayer then becomes non-negotiable—the most precious pearl of their lives. Only at this point can it be said that the person is “rooted and established” in the life of prayer.
In the meantime, it is fair to accept that it takes a long time for a sustained discipline of prayer to take root in a person’s life. Like seed on stony ground, our enthusiasm rises for a season only to disappear again. Or the seed of prayer simply gets choked in the thorns and thistles of our busy lives. We should not be discouraged nor surprised by such glaring evidence of our fickle hearts. God is not deterred. Slowly and steadily, He is wooing each one of us from a casual to a more committed relationship. Heaven’s final objective, as Scripture so often depicts, is a relationship more akin to marriage than to dating.
Eventually, through what Jesus calls “the perseverance of noble hearts” (Luke 8:15) the seed of prayer does take root in us and starts to bear its promised fruit. It shifts from the periphery to become the central focus of our relationship with God. To it we more consistently return for restoration, and from it we now draw the articulation of our lives. In other words, by God’s grace, we find ourselves finally established (lit. “made stable”) in a committed relationship to that which our hearts have so long desired.
All true prayer promotes its own progress and increases our power to pray.