Over a year ago my friend Valerie and I decided to go on a journey together.
We both found prayer in our lives to be sorely lacking, and as Christians, if prayer was supposed to be like breathing, we were barely taking a breath every 24 hours. We both felt that this needed to change, but we needed help to do it. So, we partnered up and began meeting once a week with the goal of praying together for an hour. (A whole hour! haha) When Valerie and I made it past a month of meeting together, I distinctly remember sharing a few high-fives over that accomplishment!
So, a year has passed now. Am I more disciplined in prayer than I was a year ago?
But I can’t say that I ever felt I had to work for it. There was no agony of effort involved, other than setting aside some time, showing up and being faithful. There was no sense of it being draining – more like a sweet release and a filling of something I had been hungry for this whole time, but had been trying to satisfy with other things or by checking out altogether.
To our surprise, one of the things we discovered is even though we went in with the desire to be more ‘disciplined’, we actually felt more freedom and less burdened than when we went in. The sense of peace and centeredness we felt afterwards was enough to want more, and though we were friends before, our praying together deepened that friendship into a sisterhood that I have found rare in my own life.
Probably the biggest change that Valerie and I have experienced in praying together is our perspective on prayer in general. We both feel sad when we can’t make it to a prayer meeting – feeling as though we are missing out on something special. And when I teasingly asked Valerie, who is an accomplished musician and a leader on our church worship team, what she would rather miss – a prayer meeting or leading worship, she actually admitted she would have a really tough time making a decision. If I would have asked her the same question a year ago, she would have said, hands down, she would have rather be playing music.
And for me, if someone were to ask me what would I rather do, write stories or go to prayer, I would have to admit that now I’d rather go to prayer. A year ago I would have balked at such an answer.
So, how does one change from avoiding prayer to not being able to live without it?
It’s simple. It’s being in the presence of Jesus.
He shows up, faithfully, and it’s remarkable. What’s even more remarkable is that I’m surprised by this. The promise is written in bright red letters!
(Matthew 18:19-20 – “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”)
If I told you next week on Friday night at 6:00 pm, Jesus would be visiting a local church for an hour and you were invited to have a closed door meeting with him with a small group of other curious people, wouldn’t you want to go? Or if he was going to show up at your house and meet you in the living room over a cup of coffee and a warm blanket? Wouldn’t you find that a life-giving, refreshing, encouraging, perspective-changing, encounter you wouldn’t dare pass up?
Or maybe you were like I was over a year ago – that waffling, unsure person, who at the prospect of meeting with Jesus felt terrified, ashamed and braced for a rebuke. A person who if God were to ask, “Where are you?” they would reply, “I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Gen. 3:10)
“Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen. 3:11)
If you’re constantly being reminded of how bad you are to the point you are avoiding God and not running to him, and where you regularly feel naked and ashamed, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty it’s not God doing the reminding.
If you’re being reminded how you are selfish by taking so much time to pray when everyone else is so busy, and how unproductive you are when you could be out feeding the poor or working in a soup kitchen, it’s not God.
If you believe that you have to get cleaned up first before getting into God’s presence, you are believing a lie. What the enemy is trying to sell you, that somehow letting the love of God change you would mean torturous agony, or that spending time with him is a waste and unproductive – it’s a bald-faced lie.
The only way any Christian can ever change is by being in his presence through Holy Spirit. The only way a Christian can have any impact on the world through works without quickly burning out, is by spending time in his presence and letting him rub off on you.
Our enemy knows this and prayer is where the battle is fought and won. His strategy has been pretty simple, so far. Demoralize the enemy and keep them off the battlefield.
Jesus isn’t in a bad mood, my friends. He is in a really, really good mood and he wants you to spend time with him – not to chastise you, or scold you, but to love you.
If you’re afraid of correction – don’t be. The times when he has corrected me, (and it happens more often than I would like to admit) it has been surrounded by so much love and encouragement that it felt more like a caress than anything else. In fact, whether it’s correction or caresses, I’m usually just floored that he notices me! haha
If you’re being ‘corrected’ in such a way that drives you from his presence, that brings up past mistakes, that consistently reminds you of things you have asked forgiveness for and are in the process of growing in – it isn’t God. It’s not correction, it’s accusation. Our enemy is an accuser. When those thoughts scamper across your mind and try to distract you from drawing close to God, you are free to stamp DENIED on them with a big red stamp.
I will never change.
I’m being unproductive. So and so wouldn’t approve…
God doesn’t want to spend time with me.
I don’t deserve his love.
God doesn’t answer my prayers. I’m not like so and so…
Jesus loves you and he wants to let you know in a way you will only discover by spending time with him.
I’ve been at a place where I had been so out of practice with prayer that I had nearly lost my vocabulary when it came to talking with God. But, I found a little help with books of written prayers that I would pray to him when I couldn’t get the words out. I also would do the same and pray my way through the Psalms. But if you are unsure how to open up to the Lord, you could start with this:
“Lord, I’m here and I want to know you. I’m not here to ask for anything other than more of you in my life. Teach me to pray, teach me to listen, help me to understand and do your will.”
And then listen. Give it time. Be patient.
There are all kinds of promises for those who draw near to God and wait on him. He is faithful.
Looking back, I have sympathy for the person I was before I started praying more. But if I had a chance to go back in time and talk to myself, I’d probably tell her to stop being so dramatic! Reflecting on my attitude I had back then, it’s a bit like watching a person hemming and hawing over whether they should try a slice of warm, homemade (insert something wonderful that you enjoy eating and couldn’t imagine living without) pie. I imagine this is Jesus’ reaction over most of my hemming and hawing about simply walking with him. “Really? Your afraid you won’t like pie?”
Jesus, make us into a people who can’t get enough of you.
(P.S. Forgive me if it’s a little rough to read. I’ve been out of practice!)