Earlier this year, I wrote a series of articles on subversive habits and their power to affect the primary story we see ourselves a part of. I posed this question: What practices or habits would have the effect of lifting up the Scriptural Story while also demoting lesser stories?
Subversive habits are specific to the sanctification process for each person. The goal is to stimulate our imagination so we can choose counter-formative practices that will help us resist being conformed to the world.
The Possibility of Prayer
Shortly after finishing that series, I picked up a new book from a pastor friend of mine, John Starke: The Possibility of Prayer: Finding Stillness with God in a Restless World. It’s not hard to find books on prayer, but it’s not easy to find good books on prayer. Many are the books that will tell you how to pray; few are the ones that make you want to pray. John’s book belongs to the latter category.
Here are just a few of the gems I underlined:
“Prayer is either the greatest insanity or the most wonderful news.” (14)
“Prayer is not possible because we have somehow made ourselves worthy of God’s attention, but because God has made himself known to us. We did not have to ascend like phoenixes out of our ashes to get God’s attention, but God descended into the depths of dust with us.” (15)
“If we want to see and experience what God does in us and around us, which is quiet and subtle, we must make ourselves low. Prayer is the regular practice of lowering ourselves to better views of his work.” (60)
The Need for Boastful Prayer
One of the aspects of the book that stood out to me was John’s treatment of Psalm 34 and his promotion of “boasting” in prayer. Similar to the “subversive habit” language I developed in my series of articles, John calls this a “counterhabit,” a deliberate discipline intended to counter and replace a worldly sentiment with a godly frame of reference.
But what is boastful prayer? Why would this be a powerful discipline? John explains:
“We boast in what we treasure: ‘Look at what I have here!’ We boast in our strengths: ‘Look at what I can do!’ We boast in our accomplishments: ‘Look at what I’ve done!’ We boast in our associations: ‘Look at who I know!’” (96)
Then, John contrasts this typical (worldly) way of thinking with David’s boasting in Psalm 34:
“For David, his boast is in the Lord: his treasure, his strength, his greatest association.” (96)
The Praise That Changes the Heart
John suggests we read a passage of Scripture and then write down all it says about God and his attributes. We train ourselves to look for things to praise.
Family counselors will tell you that one of the ways to change the atmosphere in your home is when a husband or wife begins looking for whatever they can praise rather than criticize, or when a parent begins to brag on their child to their child in order to put an end to nagging or disrespect. By praising someone, our love grows.
The same is true in other circumstances as well. The more you sit around and speak highly of someone you admire, or the more you talk to your friends about the recent series you’ve streamed, or the music you love the most, or the best book on your shelf, the greater your enjoyment of these people or things.
Boasting in God as a Subversive Habit
Boasting takes it up a notch, and in prayer it becomes subversive precisely because our natural inclination is to turn our praise toward ourselves, to speak highly of our treasures, our strengths, and our accomplishments. When we turn our focus away from ourselves and look for reasons to boast in God, we push aside what is lesser, and we grow in our love for the God we now adore specifically.
“This work of boasting and adoring is a counterhabit. The normal bent of our hearts is to magnify ourselves. Our natural, selfish, inward orientation is our main obstacle to fullness, and our society seeks to indulge this impulse—to think and marvel at ourselves first. It is the archenemy of spiritual vibrancy and growth. Boasting in the Lord is a counterhabit that begins to shape our prayer into a communion of love.” (97)
Why would this spiritual discipline be subversive? Because our society constantly tells us what we should value. Everywhere we go, we are told what we should magnify. Our habits and rhythms, when left to their natural state, will reinforce something other than God as the object of our adoration and attention.
“Boasting in God is a habit that slowly creates different grooves in our heart, new affections, new loves. It’s a counterhabit as well to those of us who, when we are honest, offer more complaint and grumbling than praise and thanksgiving.” (97-98)
So, here’s to boastful prayer as a subversive habit—another aid in our spiritual growth!