by Cath Tallack
[6 minute read]
A few years ago, probably after a really good Australian Open, I decided I wanted to learn to play tennis. Having never played before, I found a private tennis coach and had a lesson a week. If you play tennis, you will know the grip on your racquet is really important. Rob, my coach, taught me that the best way to get the correct grip on your tennis racquet is to place the racquet on the ground and pick it up naturally, without thinking about it. The way that you hold it is the way you should grip it to play. Rob would go on to say after a few times of me picking up the racquet naturally, that the more I held a tennis racquet, the more my ‘muscle memory’ would kick in.
Muscle memory is quite simply the idea that your muscles remember what to do if you give them enough reason to. That is, if you complete a specific movement the same way enough times, your muscles will reproduce the movement without you having to consciously tell them to. Rob’s hope was that the more I picked up the tennis racquet, the more my grip would be seared into my muscle memory.
I’ve been thinking lately how muscle memory can become a part of our spiritual life and in particular our prayer lives. As a parent, I’m trying to instill the value of prayer into the everyday life of my children. So I encourage my 4 year old to pray a prayer of thanksgiving as we sit at the dinner table, and say a prayer as part of his bedtime routine. He struggles to know what to say and so I’ve taught him to pray the same thing when we do this. So, at dinner we sit down before our meal and someone will say “hands up” (we hold hands to pray at our house) and my 4 year old recites, “Thank you Jesus for this food, bless it to our bodies in Jesus name we pray, Amen.” My 1 year old echoes at volume, “Amen,” we squeeze each other’s hands and get to eating.
While there is a lot of value in teaching little ones how to pray, I’ve been wondering how much routine and muscle memory is involved in my own prayer life. How has my prayer life morphed into this practice that my mind knows by heart? Has it lost some of its power and meaning? And if so, how do I get back prayers of power and meaning?
If I’m really honest about where my prayer life was at, I think I might have lost sight of the God that I serve. A great big God who makes the impossible possible and even though I know he’s listening, answering and with me in every moment of my mundane, repeated prayers – how am I honouring who he really is through my prayer life?
In thinking this through I found myself in the book of Joshua. If you’re familiar with the story of Joshua you will know that Joshua takes over the leadership of the Israelite people from Moses. When Joshua takes over God gives him this directive, he says “Be strong and courageous.” Joshua is leading the people of Israel to the promise land and there’s some huge road blocks in the way.
Joshua faces a flooded river that he needs to get a great number of people across. God, in control of all nature, splits a flooded river so that people could cross and then releases the water back into place in the river bed. As the people cross, they take stones from the river to build an alter to remember what God has done.
Next there are the walls of Jericho, a city that was impenetrable. Nobody was able to even get a chip of this wall, an impossible situation! God in all of his authority and power brings down the walls of Jericho.
Then there is Chapter 10. At this point in the story, the surrounding armies have heard about the things that have happened and the strength and might of the Israelites and their God. As a result, they form an alliance (with the exception of the nation of Gibeon, which forms an alliance with Joshua and therefore Israel). Gibeon is under threat and so Joshua leads the people of Israel to Gibeon to defend their new ally. This is where Joshua prays perhaps the boldest prayer that has ever been prayed.
In the heat of battle, it looks like they are losing, and the Israelites begin to retreat. Joshua, who has been told by God to be strong and courageous, that God is in this with him, knows that it needs to finish now, or it will go on forever. But the sun is starting to set, and they can’t win in the dark and so Joshua prays this prayer…
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
Joshua literally asks God to make the sun stand still. It’s at this point in the story that I wonder if Joshua, before praying this prayer, reaches into his pocket where he has a smooth river stone from the river Jordan and a little bit of fallen Jericho wall and remembers who God is. That he has the power and authority to stop and start nature, to bring down walls, to turn on and off the very sun and moon that he created. And it’s with the memory of these things that he prays the bold prayer for God to stop the sun.
Well God does it, he answers the prayer, they win, and the story of Joshua and God’s people continues.
All because of a BOLD prayer.
It kind of puts your morning prayers into perspective doesn’t it? It’s the sort of prayer that reminds you who God is and who you are in light of His power, authority and existence. It’s the sort of prayer that reminds you that God did not create you to survive the world, he didn’t create you for mediocrity or to just get by.
God created you with vision and purpose. He created you to change the world and our prayers need to reflect that purpose.
Much could be said and much has been said about prayer in Christian leadership blog posts. But on my heart today as I write this is an acknowledgement of the season that we’re leading in – how much of our spiritual rhythms have been robbed or replaced by change, struggle and uncertainty. My fear is that we don’t feel ready or our faith is depleted in such a way that we have forgotten our call to pray boldly.
If what we know about God is true, if God is who we think he is then we need to match our prayers to His greatness. If the size of your need is too big for you then it’s just the right size for Him.
What bold, sun stopping prayer is on your heart?
Instead of using muscle memory to pray, what do you have in the pockets of your memory that remind you of the power and authority that God has over your life, the life of others and the world. In other words, what rocks do you have in your pocket?
Pray boldly today for your life, your family, your ministry and those who God has entrusted to your influence and leadership.
I’m praying boldly with you!
Emerging Leaders and Rise Program Director
Cath joined Arrow Leadership in 2017 as the Emerging Leaders Program Director. She began pastoral ministry at Gateway Baptist Church as the Children’s Pastor in 2009 and as Generations Pastor. Cath is passionate about seeing leaders developed and be given the opportunities to achieve the potential that God has placed within them. Cath is married to Michael, who is a doctor and together they are parents to Henry and Oliver.