I struggle with prayer.
There, I’ve said it. I know I’m not saying anything too taboo, but all the same I think it’s a view that’s fairly common among Christians, a view that’s often accompanied by a sense of guilt or inadequacy. If you asked me who I most admire in church, it’s the people who have been dedicated to prayer for years, who have prayer in their bones. I guess for a lot of churches, the prayer meeting is sparsely attended, kept going by the perseverance of a handful of people who are absolutely committed to corporate prayer. These people need to be celebrated, although I suspect they’d disagree.
Me? I’m at the other end of the spectrum. I find prayer difficult. I can muster together the words when I need to, but often when praying it’s easy to get frustrated or distracted or to fall asleep. Except for one sort of prayer.
Now don’t get me wrong, petition is important. We absolutely should pray for other people. If we don’t, we’re not doing what God wants us to do. Praying for others, praying for ourselves when there’s a problem, isn’t the problem.
No, the problem is how we perceive that sometimes. Heck, it’s how I treat prayer far too often: like some great big cosmic Whack-a-Mole game. Problems pop up, like illness or conflict or lack of money, and we ask God to whack those moles. And sometimes the moles don’t get whacked, so we get annoyed with God, because let’s face it, if God’s omnipotent he should be able to score 100% on the Whack-a-Mole game of life.
Embarrassing, isn’t it?
Here’s what challenged me on this: in the interview mentioned earlier, Pete Greig raises the question that, if God walked and talked with Adam and Eve before the Fall, what did they talk about?
I mean, there was no pain, no suffering, no death, no poverty, the whole situation was blessed… What did they find to talk about?
Could it be that petition is only a part of prayer, and that prayer as a whole should be a way of building a relationship with God, regardless of our needs and irrespective of how many moles get whacked?
Yeah, yeah. I know I’m not saying anything original or profound. But saying and doing are two different things. And maybe it’s worth noting that God walking and talking with Adam and Eve is only really inferred – the one reference we get to it in Genesis is the moment it all goes wrong. I guess the Fall affects our prayer life, and the consequences of that Fall can too often become the only focus of our prayers – “Lord, make things better.” And there’s nothing wrong with that sort of petition, but I’m becoming more and more aware that my prayer life needs to be bigger than that, that if Christ’s death and resurrection heals the rift between us and God, then prayer should be about building a relationship, not a supply chain.
Easier said than done. Like I said earlier, I close my eyes to pray and suddenly I go to sleep, or start singing CBeebies theme songs in my head. And while I need to work on my discipline and my approach to prayer, there’s only do much I can do in my own strength. It’s interesting that most of the profound, moving moments of prayer I’ve experienced in my life have been when I’ve shut up, opened my heart and given God room to work. More often than not, those moments have happened by accident rather than design.
And so I’ll continue to petition God: heck, reading the news I need to petition God more. But that’s only a facet of prayer. And I know my pitiful prayer life has to be bigger and more expansive and I don’t quite know how that can happen, but I suspect it goes back to asking something, something simple yet profound, something that acknowledges I can’t do this alone.
“Lord, help me to pray.”