Prayer has always been a spiritual discipline I've struggled with. I once heard a quote asking if your prayer life was more of a playground romp or a weightroom routine, with the insinuation that we need serious discipline in prayer, like in a weightroom. But personally, I like the playground more.
Jim's growth in the area of prayer has been amazing over the years. He "easily" knocks out an hour or two every day journaling to God. And he sees results. He regularly has amazing stories of how God has spoken to him or worked in and through him in very tangible ways.
Me, on the other hand...well, amazing isn't the adjective I'd use to describe my prayer life. I scramble to eke out 20-30 minutes with God each morning before I rush off to school, and then the rest of my day is filled with snippets of conversations that are very one-sided (i.e. me talking, not listening very well) and easily distracted. And no surprise, I don't have very many cool stories like Jim.
The past few months I have been particularly struggling in this area, primarily pondering the purpose of prayer. Why do I pray? Why do I ask God for things when I often don't see the results, at least not the results I want?
I guess this struggle has primarily revolved around my continuous struggle with our infertility. I have fasted, I have studied Scripture, I have sought godly counsel, I have been prayed over, and I have prayed, prayed, prayed, and "nothing" has happened. And so, in the last few months I have started to explore that "nothing" and have come to the conclusion that really that "nothing" is actually a very clear "something": God is saying no. And so I have taken that conclusion to others, others who are godly and are passionately praying with me for a pregnancy, hoping for affirmation of what I feel like God might be telling me. Instead what I have mostly received is rebuttal taking a variety of forms, from passive denial and reassurances all the way to a pointed accusation of not having enough faith. Not helpful, let me say.
Jim and I were discussing this a few nights ago, and I admitted that I'm not sure that I see a reason to pray anymore. And then I had to reword myself: I'm not sure that I see a reason to ask God for things anymore. Because lately, no matter what I ask of him, it seems like he does his own thing anyways--whether it be pregnancy, or success for the movie, or changing the hearts of some of my tougher students, or helping a friend out of drug addiction, etc. Jim said it sounds like I'm talking about a pretty weak God, but I said that I'm not calling into question God's strength. In fact, this view actually ascribes full sovereignty to him. But I question what good is it to tell God what I would like him to do when He is infinitely wiser than all of us, and knows what will work best in the grand scheme of things?
So then we discussed the few examples in Scripture where godly people begged God to change his mind, and God relented. But that didn't encourage me, because most of the results weren't all that positive. Moses begged God to not wipe out the Israelites for their rebellion, but really, no sooner than God agreed, they were griping and complaining and disobeying again--for the rest of their history! King Hezekiah begged God for a longer life when he was deathly sick, and God gave it to him, and those years turned out to be his worst years yet, and he ultimately screwed the kingdom over through some poor choices. Hmmmm...
Meanwhile, I still see the value of prayer as just talking to God. As we share our struggles with Him, and even ask him for strength and wisdom and such, I can see how he uses that to draw us nearer to his heart, and then he uses us to be the solution, and that's a good thing. As I talk to God about my students, he changes my heart towards them and helps me see opportunities where I can challenge them or come along side them, etc. As I ask him to help various friends who are struggling, he opens my eyes to ways I can help them. As I beg him to make the movie successful, he reminds me of all the lives he has already changed through it. As I plead with him to give us a child, he breaks our hearts for the needy kids who are already born and need a loving home.
Sure, that totally makes sense. But I am finite, and I get tired, and sometimes I'd rather God just do the dirty work. I'd like to take a break from being his hands and feet. Like the homeless guy on the corner--I'd rather just say a quick prayer for him than pull over, invite him into conversation, and figure out how I can answer that prayer.
So then, my conversation with Jim on this topic turned into me questioning that maybe my view of God limits his compassion, especially if I am his tool of mercy. And I didn't have an answer to that.
So I went to bed.
And then last night at 7-24, after an awesome message about reaching out to the hurting and lonely all around us, based on the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, one of the songs we sang just jumped out and hit me.
I'm not even sure what the song is called, but after going through an adaptation of the Lord's Prayer, the chorus goes to this:
"Two things you've told me:
that you are strong
and you love me.
Yeah, you love me.....
Your love is....strong....."
And the tears spilled over onto my cheeks as I felt God was speaking directly to me, saying "I know you're struggling with how this all works together, but Rachel, let me remind you yet again. I love you. And I am strong. I love everyone else. And I am strong. I AM love. And I AM strong. And my love is strong."
I still don't have the answers; I'm still struggling with prayer. But this was such a great reassurance. And then this morning as I was reflecting on this, God reminded me of the rest of the song: the Lord's Prayer. He reminded me that when the disciples were struggling with how to pray, this is the example he gave them. So if nothing else, this is what prayer should be:
Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name--Keep praising God.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.--This doesn't answer my questions, but I'll keep praying for his will, not mine, since he knows much better than me. And I'll keep trying to do what I can to bring his kingdom to earth (i.e. his love, gracy, mercy, power, justice, etc.)
Give us this day our daily bread--God has already provided me with much more than food for just today, so I guess there's not much more I need to ask him for. Funny how we forget this!
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors--confession and passing our own forgiveness on to others. Sure, I could do this more.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one--Yeah, this is a good one.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.--Amen! My God is strong. And he loves me. What more could I ask for?
What a ride!