Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sweet Hour of Prayer -- Not! A Bad Christian's Thoughts on Faith

One reason that I am a bad Christian is that I am a bad pray-er. I know that St. Paul says that I should "Pray without ceasing" but I'm more likely to cease without praying. The idea of spending an hour on my knees sends a shiver down my soul -- and probably Jesus's, too. He must know that he'd hear the same thing over and over again. Either, "Thanks, thanks, thanks" or "Please, please, please" or "snore, snore, snore."

I've tried praying the hours. That works so long as I am in a community that is praying the hours and is expecting me to be there. I've tried getting up early (like Luther) or staying up late(like my wife), but neither much works for me. It's not that I don't care for prayer -- it's just that the usual proscribed forms don't work for me.

I known I have much to learn about prayer. Sometimes I feel that my prayers are hitting the ceiling above me and bouncing back down. At other times, I feel that my prayers bring me close to God and feel enfolded in his ever-loving, everliving arms.

What, I wonder, makes the difference? Why is it so easy to connect one time and the next it seems as if all the lines are down? Why can’t prayer be easier? At least for me.

Perhaps it has something to do with how sporadic my prayer life often is. Perhaps it’s because I pray when I feel like it or need something. Perhaps I need to become more intentional in drawing close to the heart of God.

I know that an active prayer life feeds and nourishes my interior life. An active prayer life helps keep my “on the straight and narrow.” As Brother Lawrence wrote 400 hundred years ago, “when we are faithful in keeping ourselves in His holy presence, keeping Him always before us, this … prevents our offending him or doing something displeasing in his sight (at least willfully).”
But an active prayer life does more than keep me from going astray (which I have to admit, I have a tendency to do). For Brother Lawrence continues his thought, saying “[prayer] also brings to us a holy freedom, and if I may say so, a familiarity with God wherein we may ask and receive the graces we are so desperately in need of.”

You see, prayer opens me to the hiddenness within where I become aware of who God is and who I am. Prayer gives me time to focus our thoughts on the important things of life and faith and helps me connect with God.

When I think of that way, I see prayer as a glorious invitation -- an invitation from God to meet with Him. This meeting is not scheduled to take place in a high temple or on a holy hill. Rather it is an invitation to meet God close to his heart.

This is an invitation I often take too lightly. I disregard it because of the busy-ness of my life (and mine is full, to be sure). And there is grave danger in that. As Henri Nouwen said, “it is clear that we are surrounded by so much outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when he is speaking to us. We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us…”

Communicating is more than keeping the lines open. I may have a phone line that has a telephone answering machine, a fax machine and a modem all in working order. Yet, if I do not use it to call people or send them e-mail to them, I shouldn’t wonder why, when I come home at night, there are no messages waiting for me. I have to reach out and touch someone.
Richard Foster, in his book Prayer, tells his readers that is not the case. Foster says “God has graciously allowed me to catch a glimpse into his heart ... Today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to him. He grieves that we have forgotten him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence.”

I would do well to remember this as I think about prayer as an invitation. It is first and foremost an invitation to God’s heart. I am called, by faith, not to a life of rules and regulations, but to a relationship with the lover of my soul. A relationship with One who wants me to share with him and who wants to share with me the joyousness of life in the Spirit. Why is it easy to neglect the key to this relationship when I see the obvious peril of doing so in our other relationships?

I have a choice. I can spend time with God in prayer or not. If I do not, I do not just deprive myself of the joy of the life of the Spirit, I also deprive God of joy from spending time with me.

Perhaps that hour of prayer is sweet after all.

-- Brent


Robin M. said...

Are you gonna write another book "For Bad Christians Everywhere" or something like that? I think you're starting to build up some material...

Brent Bill said...

I have a couple of book proposals out at publishers, but none has a title like you suggest. Hmmm. May be an idea though -- "A Bad Christian's Guide to Faith" or something like that.

Hope you're well!

David Carl said...

One thing that's really helping me with this is attending a weekly group in which each person reports on (among other things) how our prayer life is going. This has gotten me to thinking about it a lot more and becoming more intentional. I'm also starting to explore how I can remember to turn to God more throughout the day, particularly while at work and whenever I have decisions to make.

I just finished reading "Friends, Let us Pray" by Elsie Landstrom, Pendle Hill Pamphlet 174. You might enjoy that if you haven't read it already.