Value in Liturgical Prayer? February 7, 2011Posted by orualundone in Books, Change, Identity, Prayer, Sectarianism, Worship.
Tags: Common Prayer, Liturgical prayer, Relevant Magazine, Shaine Claiborne
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I grew up a non-denominational Evangelical Christian, and have attended many churches for over the course of my 26 years. This means I have not been subject to many (or any) consisten religious traditions in my life. Evangelical churches tend to set themselves up in direct opposition to Catholics, Episcopalians, and other “mainline” denominations, and as such have almost a pathological avoidance of standardized ritual, rite, or prayer. Even the things that are fairly standard such as baptisms, the taking of communion, the lighting of the advent wreath have taken on wildly different forms depending on the church I was attending.
This is something that I both love about the Evangelical church and that frustrates me. I adore the fact that we don’t tie being a Christian to certain objects or ceremonies. I understand that it’s very easy when you have a ritual to replace God with it, to have it lose all meaning, and to lose God in the ritual entirely. At the same time, I often find myself longing for a bit more structure to help guide me along when I’m foundering.
In hopes of this, and for other reasons (gay rights, women’s rights, and views on evolution), I briefly attended an Episcopalian church. I liked the prayers, loved the reverend, and enjoyed her homily. But I was baffled by all the robes and ceremony, standing and kneeling. The music bored me and all the people were much older than I was. I didn’t feel at home at all, and I didn’t feel like the church was alive in the Spirit or growing.
So when I read Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s article in Relevant Magazine about liturgical prayer I was intrigued. They’ve compiled an updated prayer book, based on the Book of Common prayer used by the Episcopal church for many decades. They make a compelling case for the value of prayers prayed in common by the body of Christ, prayed regularly, and prayed often. It’s an argument I’ve heard before, and have been interested in, but whenever I get my hands on a prayer book I am completely confused about how to use it and what to pray when, and I usually give up almost immediately.
I do realize there is a danger in rote prayer, in that it is easy to just end up repeating the words without meaning. It is easy to put the act of repetition itself on the altar instead of Christ and have our Christian lives become dry and soulless. And I certainly don’t think pre-written prayer should be the only way we talk to God.
However, I’m starting to agree that there is also a value to set, daily prayer (or the “daily office”, as it is called, which includes also songs and Scripture readings). First, it doesn’t allow us to pick and choose just what is on our minds at the time. It is a well balanced program of praise, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. The readings take us through the Bible in a coherent and rational way, and don’t let us skip the parts we don’t like, as we all tend to do when reading on our own. And having a set appointment with God helps keep us regularly in touch with him.
Written prayers take us out of ourselves and remind us to reaffirm what we believe on a daily basis. How often on my own do I remind myself of Jesus’ identity or sacrifice, or pray the Lord’s prayer in earnest. Almost never. And lastly, a pre-written prayer will sometimes allow me to express what is in my heart better than I could have on my own. Sometimes I avoid my quiet time when I feel frustrated and aren’t sure what I want to say, but if I have a set prayer waiting for me it takes the pressure off and allows me to get in God’s presence and reach the point where I can speak what’s on my heart, in my own words.
Again, I don’t think that a liturgy should be our only, or even primary, means of talking to God. There is such value in being able to approach him as friend and Father with our personal concerns and fears. But there is also value in approaching him with a sense of awe and wonder and formality that I feel I have lost along the way. And for someone like myself, who is so easily distracted and so terrible at maintaining a regular prayer time, having a written text to follow can focus my thoughts on God and allow me to commune with him more effectively than I could if I was struggling to find words and keep my mind on track.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to give daily, written prayer a try. I’ve found a website that each day lays out the daily office for morning, noon, evening, and bedtime prayer, without requiring me to fumble through a prayer book I never learned how to use. The prayers are good, scripturally based, and change with the day and season. I’m actually going to try to pray seven times through out the day for the rest of February.
I’m going to try praying as soon as I wake (which I already typically do, even if it’s just “Father, help me get through today!”), when I get to work, mid-morning, noon, midafternoon, sunset, and right before bed, using the written services for guidance at the main times, and in between just talking to God on my own. I’m not going to limit myself to the written services and prayers – if I want to keep praying afterwards then of course I will. But I am going to try to follow them and see if this kind of liturgical prayer as a discipline will help me tame my spiritual ADD and be more consistent about my time with God.
I started this morning. It was hard to sit down and go through the praise, reading, and prayer first thing – before I even checked my email or clocked in, but I felt so much better going into the day. It reminded me to glorify God first thing, instead of just thinking of my own desires and presenting them to him in a laundry list. It reminded me what the focus of my day was. I read Psalms and scripture passages I often skip over, but they were short enough for me to contemplate them instead of just skimming to be done.
Saying the Apostle’s Creed (which I did NOT grow up with in any capacity) helped me remember what the core beliefs of Christianity are, and that even though I often feel like an outsider, my liberal views and politics actually have nothing to do with what really makes me part of the body of Christ. And finally, I took great pleasure in the fact that other people around the world were praying the same prayers at the same time as me. It felt like my prayers were powerful and that I was truly part of a community, which is a good feeling for someone who feels so out of place even in her own church. In short, it was an amazing experience for me. I felt really, truly fed by God.
One of the prayers particularly really summed up what I want to start the day with, far more eloquently than I could have on my own: “Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
It will be an interesting experiment. Will I continue to grow and find the liturgy uplifting and revelatory? Or will the novelty wear off, leaving me just mouthing the words and feeling suffocated by the repetition? I don’t know, but I’ll report back in March and talk about what my experience has been like, and whether I’m going to continue fully or in part.
Quote of the Day: December 29th December 29, 2010Posted by orualundone in Grace, Healing, Prayer, Quote of the Day, Solitude.
Tags: Henri Nouwen, Way of the Heart, Wounded Healer
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We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with Him and Him alone. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. Solitude is a place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world.
A Prayer for the Coming Year December 28, 2010Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Prayer, Words.
Tags: James, Psalms, the tongue, words
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Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.
This has been on my heart lately as I think about what I want for this upcoming year. My words are often not what they should be. I complain a lot. I gossip. I use sarcasm, sometimes in a way that is not as welcome as I thought it would be. And I tell lies, mostly white ones, usually when I find it socially convenient to do so. And even when there is nothing particularly wrong with my words, they usually aren’t actively honoring to God or praiseful either.
The meditations of my heart are often trivial and unflattering. I spend a lot of time reading or watching useless entertainment, and thus that is what I think about. I don’t spend vast amounts of time plotting evil, and I know not every thought I have needs to be deep and prayerful, but the majority of my thought life is given over to completely worthless subjects.
I want to start regarding my thoughts and words as a much an important part of my Christian walk as my devotional time and church time. Not just my conscious thoughts and words when I’m actively discussing God, praying, or thinking about a sermon but my casual, haphazard speech and my unbidden thoughts. I want to learn to keep a guard on them and ask myself if what I am saying and thinking are pleasing to God. Because thoughts become words and words become actions. If my thoughts are shallow and useless, I become ineffective. And if my thoughts are bitter and resentful, then my actions will shortly follow.
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
Books: Forgotten God by Francis Chan – First Impression August 2, 2010Posted by orualundone in Baggage, Books, Holy Spirit, Prayer, Trust, Worry.
Tags: Forgotten God, Francis Chan
I am far too tired to coherently write what I had originally planned for tonight. However, on the well-timed recommendation of a friend, I did just finish reading “Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit” by Francis Chan. Or I should say, I finished reading it for the first time. In my eagerness to devour this fantastic book I read it far too quickly (as I am apt to do), and am going to need to go back and read it more slowly and thoughtfully (with a Bible in hand) to really absorb the meat of it. But I wanted to get some thoughts down while they were still fresh in my mind.
I have to admit, I was wary of a book about the Holy Spirit. Extremely wary. Chan understands this, and in the introduction one of the first things he says is that we all have “baggage” about the Holy Spirit. Oh, boy, do I!
I was raised by a mother who asked me at the age of six why I wasn’t speaking in tongues yet (I ended up pretending by babbling gibberish when I would pray for the next year just to get her off my case). When I was naughty and did something typically kid-like such as talk back or shove my toys under the bed instead of putting them away, she would pray to cast the evil spirits of Satan’s influence out of me and that the Holy Spirit would give me good spirits instead. I really would have preferred a spanking at that point. When a friend’s mom had a mental breakdown she decided it was because the people who had lived in the house before them were Satanic and spent an entire day anointing all their doorposts with oil and praying for the Holy Spirit to cleanse the house. And she refused to sell our house to a nice gay couple who bred border collies because she had spent so many years getting it spiritually “clean”.
So yes, I am a bit gun-shy about the Holy Spirit. Or rather, about the ways other people try to use the Holy Spirit to do some creepy and weird crap. But while I don’t have an actual problem with the Holy Spirit doing stuff (as long as no snake-handling is involved), I also don’t really spend any time thinking about him as a separate part of the Trinity. I tend to think of him as kind of an extension of God the Father. When something mysterious happens that I know is from God, that’s the Holy Spirit. But that’s about all I give him. And I certainly don’t think about being indwelt by the Holy Spirit – isn’t that kind of a Jesus thing?
Apparently not. And Chan is right, we have neglected the Holy Spirit. Whether through ignoring him in our lives and churches as much as possible, or attributing things to “the Holy Spirit” that have nothing to do with him and are only to satisfy our own ideas of how God should be working or what we should be doing. It is neglect all the same.
Chan points out that if we were to have read the Bible knowing nothing about Christianity or church tradition and then were to walk into almost any modern day church we would be appalled at how the Holy Spirit is (or in many cases, isn’t) treated. The Holy Spirit, he says, is central to the Gospel and the scriptures. And this is true. I sat down and cracked open the New Testament at a couple of more or less random spots and neither Jesus (in John) or Paul (in the Timothys) go very long without talking about the Spirit. This is something I need to adjust my thinking on, and just spend time reading and reading with new eyes and a new perspective on the Spirit. And thinking about what it actually means to have the Spirit living with in me – as opposed to just floating around out there somewhere, intervening sporadically and unpredictably.
The other thing that really hit me was Chapter 6, entitled “Forget About His Will For Your Life”. Quite a provocative statement, given that I thought that was what we were all supposed to be seeking above all else. But Chan is not saying that God’s will doesn’t matter, only that we spend so much time asking and obsessing over getting an exact blueprint for our lives (or at least a five-year plan) from God that it becomes completely paralyzing and we end up doing nothing.
Living out of the Spirit means letting him guide us. But we are never promised a complete road map. It’s more like a flashlight, that illuminates just the next step or two ahead.
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
This is not talking about God’s will for our entire lives, this is talking about just our next move. And as Chan points out, if we can’t even live today, one single day, by the Spirit, how can we possibly hope to follow a divine plan for the rest of our lives. And if we had such a plan mapped out for us, would we even bother to ask him for daily guidance?
I am so susceptible to this. I am a planner and a schemer, and a control freak. When Indy and I went on vacation last summer I literally had an accordion file with folders for each day containing directions to where we needed to go, phone numbers of anyone we might need, where we were going to stay, what hikes we would take and what sights we would see, as well as a contingency plan in case that didn’t work out.
This works fantastically for a vacation. Less so for a Spirit-filled life.
There is so much in this book I want to unpack and will need to really deal with: What does it actually mean to have the Spirit? Why do we even want to have the Spirit? And am I really ready to surrender that level of control in my life to him? And so many more things, which I will probably go into in the future as I process them.
But I think the main message for me, for now, is to wake up each day and ask the Spirit to dwell within me and show me where he wants me to go today. Just today. Do I go to the right or to the left? Because that simple act alone can lead me places I could never imagine at the moment, if I have the ears to hear and the courage to obey. I am going to try not to worry about the future, or plan and contingency plan, or beg God to show me the shape of my future life so that I can feel better about things. I am just going to try to wake up and ask the Holy Spirit: “Okay. So which way now?”
Lies I Believe, Part 1: No Time July 29, 2010Posted by orualundone in Lies, Lifescripts, Personal, Prayer, Time.
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Since writing about Inception, I’ve been thinking more and more about how insidious the lies that we’ve started to believe can become. They can end up controlling your whole life, your whole world, without you even realizing them. I’m working on breaking down the lies and false realities in my own life, and so I’ve decided to write about them one at a time as I come to recognize them. Refuting them in writing will make it easier to remind myself of the truth when I start to fall back into the old habits I’ve based around them. This first one is so simple and seems almost silly at first, and yet it effects every area of my life.
The lie: There’s not enough to time do anything.
I always feel like I’m short on time. This is one of the reasons I’m always early to things – I feel rushed, like I don’t have enough time to get there so I end up being super early and just wasting all that time. If I have to go somewhere and leave in an hour, I feel like I have no time to get anything done before I go since “it’s only an hour”. Of course there are tons of things that can be done in less than an hour. If a friend comes over and stays until 8 pm, I’ll feel like I don’t have time to do anything else before bed even though there are three more hours before I should be asleep. If I have commitments, even very short ones, more than a few weeknights and one weekend night in a week I feel overwhelmed because I think I won’t have time to do anything else that week. Even if it’s just meeting someone for coffee for an hour, I think of that night as completely shot for doing other things except the very basic household maintenance that absolutely has to happen.
I’ve bought into a couple false beliefs here, actually. The first one is there’s not enough time, but the second goes with it – it’s not worth starting if you don’t have time to finish it (or at least make significant progress). Knitting a sweater takes days. Maybe in the ten minutes I have before I have to leave for work, I can do two rows of it. But I won’t because I feel like it’s not worth it, and I can just do it later when I have a bigger chunk of time to work with.
The result: My effectiveness is demolished.
I spend a lot of time on the couch watching TV or messing around on the internet, because I feel like I don’t have time to do anything else – even read (because I don’t want to get it into and have to stop). As a result, so many projects remain unfinished or unstarted. I always feel behind on everything because I put it off from “lack of time”, and thus even more rushed and more reluctant to take on more commitments. I cancel things because I feel I don’t have time to do them. I don’t get involved in activities that have too much of a regular time commitment. I hoard my time and save it…for what?
That’s the thing. I don’t do much with it because I still feel like there’s not enough of it. I feel like there’s not enough time to get involved in ministry or call a friend I haven’t talked to in awhile or even read the Bible. Even though I’ve just spent an hour watching Law and Order, and then will spend 30 mins on the internet reading funny blogs, 20 minutes trying to decide what to do next, and then another hour watching a movie with Indy before we give up and go to bed. This is how I become completely ineffective. I let myself be fooled into thinking that there’s no time for devotions, no time for exercise, no time to make a healthy meal instead of a junky one, no time to maintain my relationships. It keeps me fat and lazy and useless, physically and spiritually.
The truth: I have plenty of time for the important things I want or need to do, but if I put them off they may never happen.
On a day-to-day basis, I have tons of time. I have a job that requires nothing of me after hours, and although I go in very early in the morning, I get home at three and usually don’t go to bed until eleven. I get every other Friday off. I have no kids and split the household chores pretty evenly with my husband. And yet I let myself be drawn into this fantasy that I have no time today, but tomorrow I will have more and will do that devotion, make that phone call, finish that project, join that Bible study.
‘ Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” ‘
While today I might have plenty of time, tomorrow that might be gone. Anything can happen. And of course even when I do have a tomorrow, it is the same. I have no time today, I will have more time tomorrow. And so my life is wasted away by the endless tomorrows.
“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handsbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.”
Satan doesn’t want me to make the most of my time. He doesn’t want me to spend time in prayer and study and get closer to God. He doesn’t want me to be physically fit and healthy. He doesn’t want me cultivate strong, uplifting friendships with believers and non-believers alike, or to have an effective ministry I’m invested in, or simply to be happy and productive. He wants to keep me miserable and lazy and stressed so that I can’t do any of those things. But he wants me to think that I will one day, because if I realize that it’s slipping away, I might get angry enough to do something about it.
“We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”
How to fight it: Give God the first of my time, then do a reality check.
If no matter what else is going on, how many other things I have to do that day, I can make spending a set amount of time with God the priority, it won’t matter if afterward I feel like I don’t have time to do anything else – because I’ve already done the most important thing. But here’s the catch: I don’t think I will feel like I’m out of time after I spend some with God. I think I’ll feel even more able to do things that are important, and even more able to see what useless things are stealing my time that I can get rid of to focus on the right priorities. And I can ask God to show me how he wants me to use my time, instead of just aimlessly wasting it until the day is over.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
The next step is to check my thinking when I catch myself feeling like don’t have enough time to do something I want to do or should do, or that I will do something important later but right now I just want to hang out. Memorize the verse above and others like it, and use them to ask myself if I’m making the most of every opportunity. Am I prioritizing the right things, not just in words but in the actual way I spend my time?
And finally, a very practical trick to try is when I say want to do something but find myself saying “but I have to leave in an hour” or “BFF is coming over in 30 minutes” to actually do the math to see whether I really do have time for something. “I want to go running but I have to be ready to go to church in 45 minutes”. Okay – 2 miles takes me about 20 minutes, a shower takes me less than 10 and I can be dressed in 5. That’s 35 minutes on the outside, and even if it takes me 5 minutes to get my exercise clothes on and find my ipod, I still won’t be late to leave. Breaking it down like that helps me see how silly it is that I would just do nothing until it’s time to leave because I feel rushed.
Summary: Satan wants me to feel short of time in the present so I continually put things off for the future and never actually get around to anything that would glorify God, or bring freedom, joy, or restoration into my life or the lives of others. To keep from falling into this trap I need to give God the first of my time, and trust that he will make room for anything else that is important. Then I need to respond to feelings of being stressed for time, rushed, or overwhelmed by praying for wisdom as to what to do, evaluating whether I’m making the most of each situation, and analyzing whether those feelings are a reflection of reality or just a trick to prevent me from being whole and effective.
Quote of the Day: July 27th July 27, 2010Posted by orualundone in Holy Spirit, Prayer, Truth, Worship.
Tags: Brother Lawrence, Practice of the Presence of God.
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To worship God in spirit and truth means to worship God as we ought to worship Him. God is Spirit, so we must worship Him in spirit and truth, that is, by a humble and true adoration of spirit in the depth and centre of our souls. God alone can see this worship; we can repeat it so often that in the end it becomes as if it were natural to us, and as if God were one with our souls, and our souls one with Him.
Quote of the Day: July 22nd July 22, 2010Posted by orualundone in Heart Condition, Love, Prayer, Seeking.
Tags: Catherine of Siena, Trinity
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O eternal Trinity, You are a deep sea in which the more I seek the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek to know You. You fill us insatiably, because the soul, before the abyss which You are, is always famished; and hungering for You, O eternal Trinity, it desires to behold truth in Your light. As the thirsty hart pants after the fount of living water, so does my soul long to leave this gloomy body and see You as You are, in truth.
Catherine of Siena
Ideal or Idol? July 21, 2010Posted by orualundone in Identity, Lifescripts, Personal, Prayer, Struggles.
Tags: Ephesians, idols, Psalm 139
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As I’ve mentioned before I have a difficult time being still in my heart and praying honestly to God. One of the few times I am really able to do this well is while swimming (if only because I don’t own one of these and am forced to be alone in my own head for half an hour). The rhythm of the strokes, going under the water and coming back up again and again is like a form of meditation and my mind gets a little cleared of all the clutter that’s in it and I can focus on God.
I was asking him to show me how to be the person he made me to be, and I started mentally listing all the attributes I thought this person had that I currently didn’t have. And then it hit me. Who God wants me to be may not be the same as who I want to be.
Here’s the thing. I have a very clear idea of who I think I should be. This mythical person is organized, efficient, and always has a clean house. She never wastes time or sulks, and never worries about the future because she trusts God completely. She’s in good shape and sticks to a firm schedule of exercise and a tight frugal budget. She doesn’t stress eat or self-medicate through shopping or TV watching. She reads the Bible and prays every morning, and always finishes the projects she starts. She’s outgoing, not afraid of social situations, and a natural leader. She doesn’t talk too much or too loudly and is a great listener. She manages her time well and juggles work, family, home, church, and friends effortlessly. She’s always gracious and diplomatic, and never temperamental or impatient. She also makes all her own cleaning products and cosmetics and never eats anything that isn’t both organic and locally grown. Oh, and she speaks several languages and can play a musical instrument.
I am not that person. Not remotely. And she may not be at all the person God wants me to be. I am beginning to think that by striving so hard to be like that, I might be preventing myself from learning who God wants me to be. Not that there is anything wrong with any of those qualities (although taken as a whole she sounds a little insufferable, actually), or that I shouldn’t want to be more organized or disciplined or to get in shape or to learn French. But when I focus on trying to transform into that person, without consulting God on the matter, I am turning this ideal into an idol. Not to mention that this sort goal-oriented self improvement never works for me.
I have this idea in my head that if I can be all the good qualities in the world at once, I will be happy and perfect and who I’m supposed to be. But other than that being impossible, if that was what God really wanted he would have made us all the same. And he didn’t. Even the heroes of the Bible that are spoken of in the most glowing terms not only had weaknesses, but they also often had wildly different personalities; some bold, some timid, some patient, some impetuous. God made us different ways so he can use us in different ways, both in our unique strengths and our individual weaknesses. God shows himself at least as much, if not more, through our weaknesses.
Of course we should all desire to be more like him, but no one finite person can ever encompass the infinite. And instead of my choosing which qualities I think I should have to best reflect him, perhaps I should let him take care of that. Despite all the things I don’t particularly like about myself or wish were different, he made me like this for a reason. Some of my qualities he may use directly, some he may transform or change so that he can be glorified, and some I may just need to struggle with to learn a greater dependence on him. And I need to remember that he knew who I was supposed before I even existed:
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
Nothing about me is incidental or accidental. The is a purpose to even my deepest flaw and I have something to learn from everything about myself. Whether it is how to use a gift I have been ignoring or how to overcome an obstacle I have been dealing with my whole life, I am not meant just to toss aside my whole personality and attempt to remake myself in some image that I think is what would please God. That is me trying to control things again. There is nothing I can do to be more pleasing to God; he made me in the way that pleases him the most. Attempting to dictate that is the worst kind of arrogance. It is not for me to decide what God is to make of my life and my faith.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” – Ephesians 2:6
Pray for…yourself? July 20, 2010Posted by orualundone in Heart Condition, Lies, Lifescripts, Personal, Prayer, Truth.
Tags: fear, prayer, selfishness
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It would be false to say that I do not pray very much. I pray quite often, in fact, and with great fervor. And yet I somehow manage to actually talk with God very little. My prayers are most often for other people, for my friends and family and others in this world who are troubled or hurt. When someone I care about is in pain, I hurt with them and I cry out to God their behalf. Many people think this is a great quality that I have, that it means I am compassionate and generous. But in reality it is more often a sign of my own weakness and fear.
I am not foolish enough to think prayer has no effect on God. Nor am I ridiculous enough to truly believe that God does not know others’ deepest needs and the ultimate path of their lives far better than I ever could. And yet in my prayers for others I so often outline to him specifically what I think that they need, or the way I want the situation to work out for them. What sounds so selfless and humble is, at the very heart, a selfish and prideful desire.
What I want is less the ultimate good of others and more for things to work out the way I think that they should, in a way that doesn’t threaten my view of how life should be. I want what I think is best for the people I care about and, thus, for myself. Because I am afraid of what will happen if things go differently than the way that I have in mind. In my deepest heart, I rate my own judgment higher than God’s. I don’t trust the Creator of the Universe to work all things together for the good. I prefer to try and take control, even in my prayers.
It’s incredibly arrogant of me. Instead of simply, lovingly bringing their needs before the throne and asking God to give them whatever is best for them, I try to control the situation. I have the nerve to go up to God and essentially say “Okay, this is how I think you should handle this because my limited perceptions can’t see a better way to resolve it.” Ballsy, huh?
And of course, all this prayer and fretting over others is a fantastic way to avoid talking to God about my own set of problems, fears, and neuroses. Not that I never go to God on my own behalf, though. Actually, I am constantly asking him for things. Usually when I have a problem, or when I fear things aren’t going to happen the way that I want them to in my own life. But that’s just it. I am not really praying for myself. I am praying for things that I want – or don’t want. And there is a word of difference between the two.
I want my life to go on a certain way, with a minimum of pain and fear and discomfort. When something threatens that, I turn to God to fix it. But I don’t turn to him to fix me. I don’t bring my brokenness before him and ask for healing. I don’t admit that I can’t see a way out of my darkness and beg him to show me his path for me. And I certainly don’t ask him what he wants from me. I give him my laundry list and say “I want this or nothing”.
That is not true prayer. In fact, with the except of a few fleeting, glimmering moments of raw and brutal clarity in my lifetime where I have really spoken honestly and listened intently to God, I have almost never experienced true prayer. I’m not even sure I know how to go about finding it. The habit of controlling and pleading and trying to get what I want is so ingrained, and the great unknown of letting go and letting God work is so frightening. I have seen others pray honestly that God would do whatever he wanted with them, no matter the cost. The results are often terrifying.
And yet, in all my imperfect, self-centered prayers, I would also be arrogant to think that they were so flawed that even God could not use them. Part of finding the meaning of truly trusting him and truly opening up my heart in honest prayer is to believe that he can use even the most selfish, the poorest prayers I have to offer. Even when I come to Him out of fear and uncertainty, out of blatant self-interest, out of a desire for control and safety, I have to believe that he can make something of that. And maybe that is the first step along the path.