“If the few, the vey few, minutes we now spend on intercourse with God are a burden to us rather than a delight, what then? … What can be done for — or what should be done with — a rose-tree that dislikes producing roses? Surely it ought to want to?”
Letters to Malcolm, CS Lewis.
This paragraph captures my fundamental struggle with God. If I’m a rose plant, shouldn’t I want to produce roses? If I’m a human and everything God says about humanity is true — that we were made to be in a relationship with our Creator — shouldn’t I want to pray? Because I don’t. I put it off and put it off, then finally try to “get it over with”.
The 2015⁄2016 academic year was the one I said I would focus on prayer. I’ve read a lot about prayer, I’ve read a lot of prayers, and I’ve even tried a whole bunch of different ways to pray both individually and corporately.
I was hoping at the end of all of this, my prayer muscles would be strengthened and I would be so much better at praying. And, well… that really didn’t happen. I’m still “getting it over with”. Prayer is hard. Prayer is hard because praying is submitting. “Not my will but Thine.”
And while God is good … so, so good … He’s not tame. He can and will call you to do incredibly hard and challenging things. Jesus said we would have to deny everything to follow him. And I like my everything. I don’t want to give it all up. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything. I’m uncomfortable reading that in the pages of Scripture, and even less comfortable approaching a God who might ask me to do the same thing.
For thousands of years of history people have looked to the sky and said, “Screw you, God” and decided they knew better and wouldn’t submit to Him. I live scrutinizing the inscrutable God, putting everything I know about Him in my microscope and deciding if He stacks up. All of culture, even church culture, centers around me and my needs and my wants. How can God provide me what I need in my life. (to be successful, or happy, or powerful, or whatever)
We have lots and lots of practice pushing God out, or making Him serve our purpose. When you get down to prayer, all of that is stripped away and all I have is a tiny little man humble before the Almighty God of the universe who is so powerful all He had to do was speak and everything we have ever known in the universe was formed.
There can be no pretension in an authentic prayer experience. God is GOD and we are not. I can keep lying to myself and pretending that I know what’s best, but God is God and prayer strips away every excuse I have to think I have it all together.
It’s worth fighting against all of our natural inhibitions and treat God as God. The front line of my heart is fought through prayer. Freedom and joy are found in Jesus and no where else. Not some made up image of Jesus as a good moral teacher, or a neat guy — but in a relationship that puts my will in submission to Jesus’ greater will for me and my life and my world.
It’s worth it. Keep praying. Put God first.
The other thing I’ve found … the higher your view of God is, the greater your love for other people. Through prayer we realize how much bigger God is than we are, and we begin to realize that the published theologian with a Ph.D. is no better off before God than the 15th century slave girl who died penniless and forgotten. God has no favorites. We are all broken before an incredibly big being and we would have stayed that way if it weren’t for what God did for us. God, in His unfathomable riches and kindness, provided a way that would take us from death to life, from a broken relationship with Him to a perfect one.
The more I pray the more amazing this is to me. His grace and mercy towards me are not only generous — they’re unfathomable riches that are beyond comprehension. Through prayer I begin to realize how God has extended these riches to all people because He loves us. All of us.
You can’t love God and hate people. Jesus said it first, but it’s in prayer that I experienced this truth.
Finally, I think, and this is just my opinion, but I think that prayer is better when it’s done for the benefit of other people. A great pastor once told me he prayed for a kid that he figured nobody else was praying for. This pastor told me he started praying for that kid every single day because he thought that everybody should be prayed for every day.
I’m pretty sure every time I’ve prayed for one of my students, I’ve thought of that conversation with that pastor. I pray for my small group of students every day. Many days it’s a duty and an obligation but not a joy. Frequently I’ll pray for them only so that when I see them next, I can confidently tell them that I pray for them every day.
But in the last year since I’ve tried to more consistently pray for the same group of names every day — I’ve noticed a change. I’m more ready for what God is going to do in their lives. I love them more. I care about them better. I listen better. I look for ways that God will use me in their lives better.
Look, nowhere in here did I ever say anything about prayer and asking God for stuff. That’s most often what we treat prayer as. But what I’m learning is that prayer should be about God and about others. I still ask for stuff from God, but prayer about God and prayer about other people has been so much better than prayer about me.