Some Quick Thoughts on Prayer (while I’m up in the middle of the night and in a good mood)

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I have not been praying as much recently. That’s because my world has been topsy-turvy and I’m trying to find my way back, not to normal–which I’m increasingly convinced doesn’t exist, for anyone–but to living more centered on God.

I’m seeing some things about prayer more clearly while returning to the practice. I guess that’s a silver lining. So I’ll share these, in case they encourage you or help you think about prayer a little differently.

I believe we pray more for the purpose of opening ourselves for God to change us than for changing God. I’m not going to dig into the theology of whether God acts or changes in response to our prayers (those aren’t quick thoughts and I do need to sleep sometime).

When I don’t pray much, I leave vastly more space for negative thoughts to go wild in my head. You’d think that might be enough to keep me praying. You’d think…

I believe sin makes us think wrong. When I don’t pray as much, I also don’t open myself for God to realign my thinking. Picture your vehicle out of alignment and anytime you try to drive straight it pulls off the road. I need not only to repent of my sins but to have God do an alignment on my thinking. If that sounds like, “Whoa, God is brainwashing you,” I mean things like “I’m so pissed off at people, people suck, I think I’ll avoid all people.” That’s going to make it challenging to love my neighbor. Jesus says to love my neighbor as myself, which puts us right back to the point above–not thinking well of myself, not thinking well of my neighbor. Sin makes us think wrong. Prayer restores thinking clearly.

I’ve been very angry at this current administration for a long time. I’ve been bogged down in that anger, stuck there, and been getting consumed by it. Setting aside whether you agree with my assessment, I’m not doing myself or anyone else any good allowing this to happen. The fruit of a little more prayer has been writing about peacemaking in the midst of this, rather than raging futilely at things I can’t change. Speaking the truth? Yes. Giving myself high blood pressure? No. More prayer equals more Jesus-looking response to the things at which I feel angered.

Once again, you might wonder why I don’t just pray and pray? Taking that seriously and not merely as a rhetorical question, I find that drifting away from prayer and moving back toward prayer tend to be gradual processes. When I’ve drifted far, it takes me time and focus and work, frankly, to get my focus back on God. Mental discipline.

“But can’t you just jump back in and pray a lot again?”

If you can, do. I find it doesn’t work this way for me, so I choose to be patient with myself and trust that God who loves me is drawing me back. Wooing, even.

Last thought: Sometimes I get stuck on a big theological question I can’t answer or I’m angry at God or I’m just so confused I can’t make any sense out of the world. Sometimes, like now, two of these or even all three. I’ve learned that getting road-blocked like this can lead me away from prayer and then I think, “Okay, I’ve got to sort this out before I’m able to get back in and pray.” I don’t mean just having problems, I mean having problems with God–or with what I believe about God. So I finally realized that in these cases I need to call a truce on that thing or those things, just agree with God not to bring them up, and get back to praying so that I can eventually work through them.*

I know it sounds a little funny, “Just agree with God not to bring them up.” God does what God does, whether or not I agree to it. But I’m the one who returns to these things incessantly, obsessively (as my wife might–no, would–say). I fixate. So I’m giving myself permission to believe God loves me anyway and come back to where I can hear God reassure me that it’s true. That always puts me in a better position to try to work through such difficult things, anyway.

So on one level I’m kind of lost and floundering right now. I’m told that reverse culture-shock does this to most people and it’s “normal,” which is mildly reassuring but fixes nothing. I’ve still got to find my way through it.

On another level, I think I’m coming to a better understanding of some things, which in the long run should bear fruit in my life. Yeah, painful as hell now, but once again, Jesus shows absolute commitment to my growth and significantly less commitment to my comfort.

Is he safe? No, no he’s not.

Is he good? Yes, I believe he is.

*I’m not talking about being stuck in some conscious sin here. Tabling that to pray does not work so well, certainly not in my experience. If you believe that wrestling with, being confused with, or being angry at God is itself such a sin then we understand relationship with God very differently.

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