I’ve been asked to put some thoughts together for an article on prayer to go in the forthcoming edition of the AFES Salt Magazine. I thought I’d try a few of these ideas out online in a series of posts entitled “Approached by God”.
I’m finding that writing essays and articles is just plain old hard work, whereas blogging is fun. Maybe I can trick myself for a while…
The Pressure to Pray
Here’s an unnecessary confession: prayer is one of the areas in my Christian life where I feel like I constantly underperform.
I feel that I should be praying more, that I should pray better, about more godly matters, and for longer. I wish that I had patches worn out of the knees of my jeans, or 2 knee shaped grooves worn into the carpet alongside my bed.
I romanticise over times in the past where I have felt more prayerful – times of stress, or times when I more faithfully carried out some form of daily prayer discipline. I wish that I could once again attain to that level of spirituality.
I wish that my prayers were not so self-centered, that I could be caught up into an ecstasy of meditation upon the beauty of God, and find myself hours later trembling from a divine encounter.
I wish that I could wrestle for hours on my knees, making intercession for link-missionaries in the Congo, spending myself on behalf of others…
Well, now I’m just getting carried away…
They say that reading women’s fashion magazines will only end up making you feel fat and unattractive (… I’ve heard). Our culture is continually operating on some version of this principle, showing us images of the beautiful, the successful, the air-brushed, and calling them “normal”. I wonder if something similar doesn’t take place in the Church. Christian biographies and Christian leaders present us with Christian ‘rock-stars’, ‘prayer-warriors’. Images of saints with the sin and struggle carefully air-brushed to a point where it only exists to be victoriously overcome.
… I want to be a Prayer Warrior, I want to be a Christian Rock Star…
But in my saner, quieter moments, I also know that prayer is where I am most in touch with reality. Where I am acting out most truthfully who I am created to be. And I know deeply and honestly that prayer matters. And my failure to pray deeply matters.
For all these reasons, Prayer is an aspect of following Jesus which can easily become for me a continual pressure-point, a sore spot where my guilty conscience is forever being chafed.
To add to this pressure, is the lurking thought that if I worked out how to pray, overcame my weak self-discipline and got it ‘right’, then God could not fail to ‘Act’. I would experience his victorious power in my life, I would be freed from continual failure in the face of temptation, my ministry would be blessed because God would act to see his will triumphant. Thousands would come to Christ on the campus, or in the Church.
And it’s not just my personal prayer-life that gets me worried. I feel that prayer should be a more important part of our life together as God’s family. Prayer should characterise our Church meetings, our Bible studies, our meals and fellowship. It should be the breath of the Christian body. If we were more prayerful then we would be more successful. We would be fulfilling the mission that Christ has given us to be salt and light to this world.
So it all boils down to this: I know that it is God’s will for me to pray. I feel sure that I do not pray the way that I should. Therefore prayer becomes a frequent reminder for me of my failure in service to God, a source of guilt and frustration.
Now, if you had asked me about my prayer-life after Church one Sunday I doubt very much if I would have said the above. I would be embarrassed to speak that openly about my struggles, and I would know deep down that something is askew with my thinking.
But thoughts still have a shape even when they are not at the forefront of our minds. This is the true shape that they take in making up our picture of the world. And the reality is that the outline of my thinking about prayer, the fuzzy shape that floats in the back of my head, probably looks a lot like what I’ve just written.
…and I know I’m not alone, I’d be surprised to learn of anyone who hadn’t got a whispered “Amen” for some or all of these feelings.