By Beth Winze
I want to talk about prayer for a second, because I have this wildly, insane prenotion that I am severely under qualified for prayer. The fact that I just declared it as a wildly, insane prenotion clarifies that I know how off kilter I am in my thinking. So why, every time that I have started to pray, have I backed off suddenly feeling unworthy of conversations with my Father? I allow my self-perceived smallness to keep a safeguard gap between me and God. Before going further, after some heavy soul-searching and Bible reading, I believe that understanding the smallness of ourselves in comparison to the vastness of God is important, in fact it can keep us humbled and in consistent awe of His Kingdom.
Understanding our flawed, human smallness, in relation to Christ’s Kingship, keeps us in a mindset of willing servitude, instead of dwelling in a concept of god-like self-elevation.
This week I’ve been wrestling with my historic travesty in approaching prayer. I truly sought out answers and solutions to break down my barriers of conversations with God. I don’t struggle in my earthly relationships to find conversation, so why am I not trying to improve my conversational skills with God. After much wrestling and God sized break throughs, I wrote down five excuses I find myself making when I approach prayer. After Socratic-ally discussing prayer with some friends, I found that some of my excuses were not burdens I was carrying alone.
What a comfort it is when we become real with each other and discover some of our burdens are shared – to know that others out there struggle the same way we do. That this journey called faith is not a perfect path.
The first excuse I find myself making is: “If I pray, God will challenge me and I’m not ready for that.” This is such an ironic discord in my personal makeup, because I desire for things, people and topics to challenge my thinking and actions. I want to change and grow stronger, but I hesitate when I realize that prayer could and will most likely cause me to take pause to current events and change them. I believe that this runs deeply personal because I have asked for God to challenge and strengthen me in areas I feel are weak, but when He starts to put the pressure on for change to happen, I buck. I recently started attending a Martial Arts gym (I swear this relates). In fact, right before my first weight-lifting class I was thoroughly excited and pumped (pun intended) to start down this new fitness journey. The next day after the weight-lifting class, I cried the entire way home. I knew in my head that I was severely lacking in areas of fitness, but when the trainer pushed me to my max and forced my body to recognize it’s inadequacies, everything become very real. Only by the strength of God did I drag myself to the next day’s kickboxing class and here we are seven weeks later. I still dread how sore my body is after the gym, but I am seeing physical results from the excruciating amounts of work I put in – it’s paying off and I feel stronger, healthier, and more excited about fitness than I have been in awhile. This is how I imagine God views our requests to be tested and grown. He already knows how inadequately weak we are.
Just like my trainer had to bring me to the critical point of absolute muscle exhaustion, God has to bring us to a point of spiritual exhaustion for us to recognize that the realization of our weakness needs to go beyond head knowledge. Only from there can God add additional weights that will eventually produce spiritual results that will blow our minds.
My second excuse sings the song of self-inflated ego informing myself that: “I’m benefitting God by talking to Him and giving Him my attention when I have the time.” I really scoffed at this attitude I bear and despise the realization that this is a hindrance in my prayer life. I don’t think I could offer anything to God that He would not be able to provide Himself. I think another realization came in that God doesn’t wait around. He isn’t holding His breath waiting for me to spend time with Him. He will move when He wants, where He wants whether or not I am on board. And I hope for goodness sake that I stay within His movements, because when He moves, amazing things occur.
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It does not change God – it changes me.” – C.S. Lewis
My third excuse wins an award for “lamest excuse ever”. “But I can’t concentrate.” I know two people in my life that when they talk you can’t separate what is prayer from what is conversation. Their inclination for prayer is so commanding that their conversations are prayers to God. Having conversations with these two people are probably the most intriguing and powerful feelings I have ever experienced. They aren’t particularly concentrating on the fact that saying a prayer is a separate event, but rather leading the conversations into periods of prayer.
I believe that is what God desires prayer to be – nothing more than a conversation so natural there is no distinction in the transitions between conversing and prayer.
My fourth excuse smells of lacking trust and frustration in timing (another finger pointing at my control issues if you read the previous post). “I’ve never heard Him answer.” I allow my lack of trust in His movements to cancel my actions of patience to wait for Him to move. My concept of conversation in earthly context versus conversation with God transfer over too much causing a disruptive ideal. In a normal conversation a person is immediate in their response or acknowledges somehow they have heard you. I’ve discovered time and time again that prayer isn’t always like that. The longevity of my requests to God, to the time when they are answered causes me to doubt His abilities. It made me cringe earlier this week when I wrote this excuse down, because it hurt me to think that my lack of trust runs so deep it quite possibly has cracked and uprooted my foundation in Christ. I think this is probably one of the deepest and heaviest burdens I maintain everyday. I allow my lack of trust to not only keep people at arm’s length, but also to keep God there too. When talking to my friends, this echoed among the group. We all had a lack of trust or peace that He does hear us and that He does acknowledge our requests, whether or not they are answered with immediacy. I believe that God uses these faulty trusting faculties in our brains to exponentially prove to us that He is more than capable. I think of things in very visual ways, and can only imagine it’s like asking a baby who can stand with support to run a 5k. I hope you laughed because that would probably be the dumbest request ever. The baby’s legs are most definitely unable to provide the strength and endurance needed to run a 5k. So when I ask God for something and don’t get that thing right away, not only do I sound like a brat to Him when I whine, but I also probably look pretty ridiculous. I probably look like an infant trying to run a 5k.
Just because He can do it immediately, doesn’t mean He will do it immediately.
The fifth excuse I waive around is a pity party I throw for myself. “I don’t pray as beautifully as others.” I rolled my eyes as I typed that because how many more violins can I put in my pity orchestra? Another human struck by the comparison game induced by a culture of unhealthy competition. Another excuse that baffles me. I’m going to peel back another layer of my psyche for a vulnerable minute and reveal that I think mistakes (for the most part) are endearing. Especially when they come from people I strongly admire. Watching someone who is seemingly perfect make a small mistake serves to be a beautiful little reminder that they are not so different than I am. No, I don’t rejoice when people mess up, I just think it can be the nudge that keeps us human with one another.
“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” – Max Lucado
I’ve made prayer more complex than it was ever designed to be. If I approached earthly conversations with the same hesitations as I approached conversations with God, I would be sitting at home with no friends and no hope for interactions. So I can’t question why I struggle so hard in my relationship with Christ sometimes when I lack the conversational pieces to strive towards a deeper connection with Him. After reflecting this week on these excuses, I humbly entered prayer with a totally different attitude. I acknowledged my smallness in His presence and admitted the excuses I have been making to avoid prayer for weeks/months/years. I hope this post serves to be a vulnerable revelation that from one human to another, I struggle everyday in my relationship with Christ. It takes work, dedication and commitment that I hate to admit, often times I lack. As stated above, I feel that the more real and vulnerable we become with each other, the more we can come up alongside each other and support and walk through this journey of faith together.