martin luther

I’ve rarely begun to pray

Pray until you pray.

It’s a simple idea put forth by many evangelicals throughout history: the idea that, prayer is a time where we meet God, where we commune with him as close friends, and that it doesn’t happen unless we spend significant, quality time with him.

The illustration is simple as well: those who are your acquaintances and those who are dear friends are separated by hours and years worth of time together, shoulder to shoulder and face to face, sharing life.

There’s such a big difference between knowing something and doing it. Looking back I wonder how I could have been stuck so long thinking of God like the giant piñata and prayer as the stick that brought blessings raining down like tootsie rolls and gobstoppers.

I had a list even. A sheet of folded paper with sections for each area of my life. It’s not wrong to organize your prayer life. Keeping cards can be helpful in reminding you what to pray about. But the end goal isn’t the list. The point isn’t to check off items on a prayer sheet. The end goal is communion with the creator.

How many times I’ve hurried through the list without ever getting to pray! Passing up the opportunity to connect with the creator is inconceivable when you stop to think about the magnitude of his glory and how he’s stooped to make time and make possible the chance to be with you, sitting there in your room next to you, a hand under his chin, just waiting—waiting for you to slow down, to focus your attention, to pray into that moment when you begin to pray.

It’s incredible how much time has passed here living in this foreign land for me to get this and to actually start trying it. To discover God as a person, as someone who can be known personally and that I can grow a relationship with him by spending time talking to him and listening to him.

This idea came incrementally over the past week as I’ve been listening to talks by Wayne Grudem from his Systematic Theology. On prayer, Dr. Grudem tells a story about a pastor who felt called to pray four hours each morning from 8am to 12pm. As his church grew he cut back the hours little by little until he was only making time for a few minutes at the start of each day.

Not too long after, he received a call from an old acquaintance across the country who told him, “I don’t know why I’m saying this, but I feel the Lord has given me a word for you.” “What is it?” asked the pastor. “God says, ‘I miss our time together.’” The pastor broke down in tears.

God desires us to spend time with him because that’s why he created us. We are created to worship and glorify him and to find joy in his presence and provision. God desires that time and we draw the greatest satisfaction from connecting and communing with him.

In praying more, getting over the amount of time I think I might be wasting has been a struggle. But I think that it’s a holdover from the way I used to pray. I used to try and get through my list of things to say, and felt like this was just another chore to accomplish or another tick to mark in a box. No wonder it was difficult to take the time.

Martin Luther is regarded as saying, “I have so much to do today that I’ll have to spend the first three hours in prayer.” Prayer is not another thing to check off the list as you go about your busy day; it’s the very thing that will allow you to do anything. Not because it’s a magical formula, but because building a relationship with our creator is the single most important thing in all of life. Everything else will grow from this relationship, finding its proper place as we “live and move and have our being” in him.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

Cigarettes and Jesus

It’s currently 2am as I write this, here on this side of the world, in my little village, lost somewhere up the side of a mountain. I’ve got a couple more hours to go, or fewer, if I decide to cut my losses and go to bed.

This post is more personal than any of my previous posts to date. Not that each and every one doesn’t hold dear, personal meaning to me, nor that they’ve been somehow untrue. Just removed maybe. Or not quite as raw.

It’s been a stressful few months since returning from a quick Christmas visit back home. I’ve been stressed out by schedules and lack of schedules, ineffectiveness and having too much to do, relationships and the void that comes with being out here all alone. It seems to be everything or nothing at all.

My stress is both fueled by and relieved by those little moments in between drags, standing, as Alanis Morissette would put it, with “one hand in my pocket and the other one…flicking a cigarette.” It’s not the healthiest way to deal with these crushing feelings, but at least I’ve got a little paper stick to crush at the end of it.

It seems like the night is the only time to get anything done. I’m constantly interrupted by life—random text messages and phone calls from people all over the country, the neighbor kids wanting me to watch their dance routine, the constant tea breaks when trying to get applications and lesson plans written with counterparts, the horses coming home… And then I realize I’m out of water and have to walk down to the pump and wait in line, or I try to make a run to the outhouse and my landlord’s brother is walking by and needs to engage in a half hour chat about Islam and then my modem won’t connect to the internet and my e-mail won’t load and I’m hungry and need to think about making something to eat…

A lot of it would be normal interruptions anyone would face, but it seems like here I put in nine hours and then I come home to another full days worth of work.

And I’ve been stressed out by the looming decision to extend or not. There are so many pros to staying and so many cons to make me want to escape, and so many negatives about returning home now and so many good things to go home to. It’s stressful to try and put a weight on each of those and then watch as the scale swings in the winds of my emotions.

And then there’s Jesus. Sweet Jesus. Jealous Jesus. He’s been taking a bat to the idols in my inner worship hall recently, smashing to bits what I’ve so carefully constructed from glittery patches of worthless things, and that’s been good. Really good. I really don’t know why I don’t listen to him and rest in his presence more often. He’s always been so good to me and that whole advocating on my behalf thing before God…well, I’d be in a world of hurt without him. Life always goes better with him, even through the pain of giving up the things I’ve been using to get me through—resentment, lust, gossip, envy, laziness, and that inward “self bending in on the self,” as my namesake so eloquently put it.

Long, out-loud conversations seem to do the best. They move in a direction instead of spinning on that dwelling spiral, like a penny in those wide, yellow donation tubs that only seem to be found in malls, spinning, spinning forever it seems, hypnotizingly slow at first and then faster and faster until they hit the bottom of the bin with a trapping clunk.

Long conversations that last longer than the glow at the end of a penny cigarette—long conversations about this life here and just who it is I’m talking to, a God who has been at the moment of this feeling, at the inception of this temptation, at the end of this thought and walked on to the grave and stepped back out of it, yanking victory from the pit of hell and ascending to lead captives in his train. Captives like me. Oh! How lovely is your dwelling place!

Thank you Jesus for being here and being my friend.

image Psalm 121