Friday, July 27, 2007


Prayer is Weird

A friend sent me an urgent Email: "Please pray for me." I know something of her situation and I know she needs help that I can't provide directly.

Talking with God is no problem. Asking for things is a little harder. Asking for things for someone else is very strange. God already knows what she needs, so what can I add to things? God loves her more than I do and I assume He's doing everything he can to help her. Why pray? We're directed to pray without ceasing but I don't really get it.

It's one of those things I sort of take on faith. God says it's good and I consider the source and believe he's not just blowing smoke. So then the next question is what to pray for. I've never been able to do one of those "Lord, if it's your will, could you please, you know, sorta help this person? Oh, and save everyone else in the world while you're at it." I figure it's my responsibility to know what's going on and I also know that in any troubleshooting situation the more specific you can get the more likely you are to come up with a solution that works.

So, I sat and thought about this. OK. One thing she needs is self-confidence. Where does this come from? If you're the strong and self-willed type you can just pump it up. The rest of us do without until we meet God. There's something about His unceasing care that has changed the way I view myself. So, I asked God to help her with how she views herself, knowing that this would take longer than the current situation allowed, but I asked God specifically to just do a short-term intervention. If the situation spiraled out of control, as arguments coming from low self-esteem tend to do, things would only get worse. God protects free will but I thought this was a case of needing more direct action.

And then the Holy Spirit suggested humility. That was interesting. What does being humble add to conflict? How does one become humble? What is humility? Our culture tends to think humility is modelled by the self-abusers: "Oh, I'm worthless, nothing, blah, blah, etc." Jesus is our model for humility: the Son of God dying like a common criminal after talking with anyone who came along and telling each of them the same story in words they could understand. Jesus knew exactly who he was, and spent his life doing his Father's commandments. He got into conflict but he stayed with the same story. Ego and self-justification never played a part; if an argument escalated it was because the other party just couldn't leave it alone. I asked God to keep both of these people from getting into ego-based argument.

Then I got a real surprise. It's something that had occurred to me a while back but not recently. The Holy Spirit mentioned protection. Oh, yes. Argument opens the door to all kinds of bad things, so I asked God to put protection around their house so that nothing but His spirit could get in. I imagined this glowing bubble around their house, with a long tube from the top going to where God is. I know it's silly... but nobody was going into that house without God's permission.

Did any of this help? I don't know. Not my problem. My friend seems to be in better shape today, and thanked the friends she had asked for prayer.

Now comes the hard work: short-term intervention gets you over the immediate rough spot. There's life change that needs to happen in that household, which is a very complex thing to accomplish. How is it done?

I don't know. As a "spiritual director" I'm largely a failure. I suggest things for people to try and they just don't work. Even broadening the concept to more general terms doesn't seem to bring anyone closer to Jesus. So, maybe I'm just dead wrong and everything I've done in the last few years is self-delusion.

I just don't see how one can live as a Christian without having daily conversation with God. I've assumed that this relationship is the basic concept, as illustrated by the veil in the Jewish Temple being torn when Jesus died. I'm clothed in Jesus' righteousness. Why? So that God can see me.

Yet what seems logical and simple to me is weird and difficult to others, even those who say they like the look of it. So, maybe the problem isn't in the basic idea but in how it's done. Maybe my approach is too mystical, too loose to work for others. I've learned to balance management and laissez-faire living, sort of. Some things die from over-management, as I've learned from my own life.

Note that a relationship with God is logical and simple in concept only. Doing it day by day is by turns delightful and terrifying. The God who made the Universe and planned every little part is working in me. My soul is less than a candleflame in a hurricane with him around, but his intent is protection during change. Fierce tenderness. A Shepherd who challenges His sheep.

I've even looked into Calvinism. Maybe I'm one of the Elect. No, can't be. Ugh. I can't stand the idea that God chooses. I have to believe that Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost, every single one of them being invited to the feast.

In the end, I just don't know. People make their own decisions.

One thing to remember as you read these stories is that I turned to the Lord in 1971. I spent most of the years between then and now ignoring God; if you'd have come to me with stories of God's kindness in about 1988 I'd have asked which planet you just came in from.

So, for those of you who feel terminally estranged from God I have no advice other than "God doesn't quit." I pray that you'll leave a back door open in your walls of armor so that somewhere along the line God will find His way in, in some unguarded moment as He did with me. He is contractually prohibited from doing frontal assaults.

Unless he's invited, of course, but that's another story. Prayer always goes both ways.

Why am I in such shock right now? Its just so didn't know how exactly to pray and those three things were what I needed.
larry- what a great narrative describing the prayer process! it is such a fluid unpredictable thing. thank you so much for your contribution to the synchroblog!
Thanks for submitting this for the synchroblog. It's an insightful post.

(and I'm so very thankful "she" has someone like you praying for her.)

Anyhow...I just love that "God doesn't quit". I know the ways I turned my back on Him over the years, He should have.
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