Last week I shared the rather shocking realisation that I had had about my prayer life. That much of my planned praying was leaving me feeling burdened, rather than … well rather than what? How should we feel after we have prayed? More importantly do I actually mean feel? What I am trying to examine has more to do with my thinking, my mindset and my ‘heart-set’ than it has to do with the emotions I experience on any given morning. It is about that biblical concept of the heart that is referring to a person’s core control-centre, their will, that the English language struggles to express well. How I feel during or after I pray has as much to do with how I am feeling generally as it has to do with my attitudes and my beliefs about God and it is these latter elements from which the parasites need to be removed.
Currently my feelings are rather scuppering everything else. I’ve hit a low and am in a bit of a fog. What a strange combination clinical depression and tough ministry make! However, despite the current fog of depression I seem to be able to look back in my mind’s eye with clarity and so I’ll proceed.
So what are the parasites that have attached themselves to my prayer life?
- The lie that God needs me in order for things to happen.
- A practical unbelief in God’s activity in the world.
- The me-centred thinking that puts the onus on me wording my prayers right, or having an adequate level of concentration/engagement with that I am praying in order to ‘activate’ God’s activity in the world.
- The practical belief that my efforts are the best answer to my prayers
- An external, physical perspective that focuses on what can be done, or said or put in the diary to the neglect of the spiritual, unseen, internal realities that are where the real battle is being fought.
How horrific? I feel like I have just climbed out of a pool and found myself covered in leaches. It’s revolting. In fact it’s worse than that because these horrible lies have wormed their way right into my prayer life. They don’t sit there in plain sight, blots on the beautiful landscape that shout to be removed.
They hide under godly thoughts of faithful service:
“Isn’t it right to want to be a godly mum? Isn’t it obedient to intentionally and diligently bring our children up in the training of the Lord?”
They camouflage themselves in well sounding warnings and half truths:
“Be careful not to fall into the trap of ‘let go and let God’. We’re not just spectators here.”
“It isn’t just a case of repeating the right words often enough. God’s not a genie you know.”
“If you love that person, if you care for them then you’ll meet up with them, or cook a meal for them. Biblical love is active, the bible is clear that we can’t just say “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” without giving them the things needed (James 2:16) .”
And suddenly the ugliness seems a bit less ugly. “Well, when you put it that way…..”
So let’s expose the ugliness further. The above list, and the half truths that follow basically take the spotlight off of our awesome God and that is a bad move. When I first started looking into this I spotted that this tendency to emerge from prayer with a sense of a heavy list of things to do was not there when I was running to God in need in the midst of something. When we are at the end of ourselves we are far more likely to leave our arrogance behind at the door and fall at our heavenly Father’s feet, or collapse into his arms. I come with the attitude that I need God in order for something to happen – not the other way round. I come clinging to the knowledge that God is active in his world and far more aware that it is only through his activity that I am even praying now. I am painfully aware that my efforts, on their own, are not worth ‘the paper they are written on’. I focus on God’s listening ear and not the words I speak. I come having seen the limits of the external and the need for God to work mightily in the unseen places of my heart and the hearts of those I bring to him. I don’t come in order to wiggle out of service, or diligence, but in the context of it.
But the thing is… we are always at the end of ourselves if only we could see it. We are only ever children spending the day at work with our Father.
When we pray in awe of our Father in heaven, when we focus on him – on his name being hallowed*, on his will being done – how different will our perspective be after we have prayed. We will lose that sense of having staggered out of one of those horrendous staff meetings in which every task seems to have been delegated to us. Instead we will emerge lightened, more aware of who we are ‘working’ for, and all that he is doing. We will have left things on his desk, completely confident that he will act wisely, right into the heart of the matter, in perfect line with his perfect will. And if, by his grace, we are to be further involved in those matters – we can leave that to be worked out by him too.
As I mentioned I am currently living in a fog. This throws a whole different dynamic of prayer under the spotlight. In the fog however something shone out very clearly. Having rather trawled through my prayers the other day I came to the page that starts: Lord glorify your name today. I can’t describe the lightness that broke through at that moment. Whatever I was feeling, however unable I felt to step forward into the day, and however much fog whirled around me, God would glorify his name.
* Spell-checker wanted to change this to hollowed. Surely that is virtually the opposite of hallowing God’s name. We want it to be seen in all its fulness!