Prayer is hard.
Or is prayer easy?
I think it's both. It's as simple as having a conversation with God, and yet it is complicated enough for there to be scores of books on the subject.
If you've been around the church for any length of time, I'm sure you've heard prayer reduced to simple formulas that direct us "how-to" pray and get it right. Acronyms like A.C.T.S. (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) and P.R.A.Y. (praise, repent, ask, yield) were tossed about frequently in my youth. As I got older, I became interested in exploring more of my prayer-options, and have experimented with a variety of methods - body posture prayers, classical/historical prayers, liturgy, prayer walks and labyrinths, mandalas, and even coloring. But no matter what form of prayer I tried, I always felt pressure to get it "right."
The problem was that when I sat down to pray, there was always a long laundry list of things that I was asking God to do for me, or areas I was asking him to work in, or people I was asking him to reveal himself to... I was always asking for something! And I asked, because we all ask, for God to work in our lives because he does work in them. But I had the feeling that I was supposed to balance out all my requests with praise and adoration, so that I wasn't just constantly asking him for things. And I did try to make it more balanced. I'm part of a Bible study group in which the leadership team prays corporately each week, and I've learned some great things from their model. We begin with adoration, which simply means stating things about God that we know to be true! God, you are holy, you are Provider, you are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, you are Alpha and Omega, you are truth and light. Sometimes I try to pray this way in my personal prayers. But the problem is that all my concerns come rushing in, tripping over one another in their eagerness to be heard by God.
Today as I was driving to work, I had a prayer experience that changed my thoughts about some of those things. (To first clarify, all those things that I sometimes struggle with in prayer are based in right thinking: I don't want to only pray when I need something from God, it is good to have structure when it's needed, and we should worship and praise our Father in private prayer!) Instead of trying to balance all the things I was asking for with the right amount of praise and adoration, I just prayed for what was weighing on my heart. I asked God for his peace in the day, for his joy and energy and strength, and for other people and situations that I want to see him move in. And as I came to the end of my requests, I felt the praise and adoration begin to flow freely in response to everything I had just asked him for. My praise was natural, and not forced, because I knew I was praising a God who had just heard all that I asked for, and who wanted to answer me! It flowed out of an safe place in my heart, and my trust that I had been heard and was loved.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Last week my BSF group was studying Matthew 8. It's the beginning of Jesus' public ministry teaching and healing people. I've heard the stories many times before, but this time something jumped out at me that I'd never seen before. Let's read:
When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." Matthew 8:1-4
Did you catch that?
He touched him. The leper.
Jesus touched that unclean man who begged him for healing.
Later in the chapter, Jesus heals the centurion’s servant by speaking a word when he wasn’t even near him. He didn’t have to touch the leper. But he did. Because Jesus, being Jesus, knew that what the man needed healing - but what he really needed was love, and compassion, and someone to tell him that he still mattered. As a leper in that society, he was unclean, and anyone who came in contact with him also became unclean. The leprous and diseased had a special place outside the city limits for them to live without bothering others, and if they did have to venture inside the city with the “normal” people, they were required to announce their presence as they walked through the streets so that no one would accidentally touch them.
Can you imagine how lonely that would be?
Jesus allowed the leper access back into society by healing him, but he touched him as an unclean man. He touched him.
And he touches us. In all of our dirt and scum and mess and sin, he touches us. He isn’t afraid of becoming unclean, and he isn’t grossed out by us. Despite what we see when we look in the mirror or in our hearts, when Jesus looks at us he sees the creatures that he made and loved, and he reaches down to touch us, covered in mess, and we are instantly cleansed.