devote yourself (part 2)

Want to learn more about building a life of prayer?  Me too.  Meet me here on Wednesdays for an ongoing series exploring prayer.  I'm  honored to learn alongside you.

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photo: sxc.huEarly weekday mornings, before the sun had even dressed for the day, I’d slip in through the chapel doors and find a spot to kneel in one of the wooden pews.  The chapel would simmer with the quiet prayers of other early-risers, some who knelt like me, some who paced along the walls, fervent in their petitions.   I tried to be attentive, but my eyelids sank while the murmur of the community gently lulled my sleepy body.   I’d float along, half-conscious, on the tide of their communion, drenched in the prayer song of God’s people.

I came because I wanted to obey God, but prayer was only an idea that meant obligation to me.  I was earnest, but when I honestly revisited my life’s verse with its unyielding directive:  “Devote yourself to prayer,” I felt my stomach twist at the prospect.  I pictured God's faithful going out and doing astonishing work for the glory of His name, while I paced the lonely aisles mesmerized by a spiritual conversation that I alone could hear.

But as I entered adulthood, the warm chapel and its comforting hum were replaced by other dilemmas around prayer:  most of the christians I was meeting didn’t pray aside from meal times and emergencies, and the ones who did pray only confused me more.  There was the church prayer director who told me it was imperative that I get away alone and pray for an hour every day – even as a young mother of 3 toddlers.  “Just stick them in front of the TV and lock your bedroom door.  God wants to have your undivided attention.”   And the Pastor who told me not to pray for certain things without pastoral permission because the devil was dangerous and could wreak havoc on an “uncovered” petitioner; and the one that said all prayer had to be spoken aloud or it wasn’t really prayer; and the one who said that written prayers and liturgy were dead stubble for a dead people.   Prayer became a tyranny; guilt and confusion a tangle I couldn’t escape.  

Over time, a frustration grew in my heart.  I made it a rule never tell others: “I’m praying for you,”  because I knew I couldn't.  I locked away the verse God had given and all it meant and refused to think about it.  I was not a woman of prayer; God must have been confused.  Inside, I curved protectively around the sad, hollow space where a spark had once burned.

 But God didn’t waver. 

While I avoided prayer, He continued His long, slow, hidden work of transforming.   I never went to my bedroom for a devoted hour at a time; I never attended the pastor-sanctioned prayer meetings.  But life was challenging with a new adoption and I was scared - so I talked to God around the house.  And every morning I got up and read my Bible and wrote in my journal.  After several years, when I read back through those journals I was astonished to find that the whole time, I had been writing to God.   Instead of “Dear diary,” I had opened each entry with “Dear Lord.”    Unrecognized by me, I was writing out prayers - my heart and soul communicating with God in the way that came most naturally.

Despite my lack of effort, my frustration, my confusion, my fears, God had begun to teach me to pray.  Dear friends, when the God of the heavens calls, He Himself also accomplishes His will. 

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Dear Lord,

Our frame is not hidden from You.   You wrought us in secret places and You have seen our unformed substance.  You have scrutinized our paths and are intimately acquainted with our ways.  Let that sink down deep in our hearts.  We have no secrets from You, no hidden places where You cannot see.  

Often Lord, when we have tried to walk in Your ways we have tripped and fallen.  We have become confused and led away by other people's ideas or expectations.   Jesus, we leave that behind now.  We leave behind the failure, the guilt, the mess, the frustration that made us hide away from You.  (And some of us, Lord, we need to leave behind our success and the pride we take in it.  Help all of us.)  We come to You now with humility and ask You to till our hearts.  Remove the rocks and roots, turn over new soil and make us ready for Your planting. 

We seek only Your instruction, not more plans and schemes.  We know now that devotion to prayer is not the aim.  It is devotion to YOU that we seek after.  Give us ears to hear Your voice through the crowd.  And may we go with glad hearts where You lead us.  

We rest now in the knowledge that if You call us to pray, You will be faithful to make us pray-ers.  We rest in Your love for us, a love that will go all the way to the cross in order to transform us.   We rest in a God who is able to accomplish.

In Your precious name, Jesus, we pray.

amen.

 

holy experience