Thursday, March 22, 2007

Living (Life) on a Prayer

I really struggle with my prayer and devotion life. I understand that as a Christian I am called to pray and have a daily devotion time with God. Some of the reasons for this I understand, some I don’t. So I thought I’d write about it … and see where I end up.

Let’s start off with the “Daily Devotion”. I think, (Moi thinking, not necessarily the same as God’s thoughts), there’s four parts to a Daily Devotion. They are Bible Study, Meditation, Prayer and Journaling. What do these things provide?

Reasons why I read the Bible. Why do I need to spend time studying the Bible? After all, I go to church- going to two services on Sunday, belong to an Adult Sunday School class – and teach the same class from time to time.

I read the Bible because it’s another communication tool for me and God. Just like I recognize I don’t know everything about cooking, cotton and the Gold Rush, I don’t know everything about God. The only way to learn is to study. The Bible is written by learned and knowledgeable people – besides prayer, and reading what other contemporary people have to say about the Bible, this is one of the only ways to understand what Jesus said and what biblical scholars wrote.

Why study something that was written so long ago? It’s difficult to read and doesn’t seem to apply to my day to day life. Every time I allow myself to think this argument, I remind myself about Shakespeare, Homer (not Simpson), and Tolstoy. These “old” literary works are still read today. The language in them is difficult. Their writing style isn’t contemporary. Yet, the stories and struggles they present are timeless and classic. There are lessons to be learned from the experiences of others – therefore – there are lessons for me to learn from the Bible – even if they take place in another time – and within different contexts.

How do “I” know how to translate what I read in the Bible into “my” life. Sometimes it’s easy. “Thou Shall Not Steal.” (Ex 20:15) Pretty clear language, makes sense. Sometimes it’s less clear … “and the pig, for though it divides the hoof, thus making a split hoof, it does not chew cud, it is unclean to you.” (Lev 11:7) And why do I (or God) care if an animal doesn’t ruminate (chew cud)? Not so clear.

So here’s what I do. Some of the stuff I say, “Well, that’s cultural/historical wisdom, culturally there were reasons for such abolishment”. Like pork and the fear of trichinosis back then which is not an issue today. Clearly I have chosen to believe differently than my Jewish and vegetarian friends and I eat pork. Regularly.

Some other things I’m willing to accept as tenants of my faith called for in the old testament, but no longer necessary after Jesus' life and death. In the old testament, animal sacrifices were required. In Leviticus God orders Aaron to offer a animal sacrifice. But in the New Testament we are no longer called to offer animal sacrifices to God. “But when the Messiah arrived …=[h]e also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. (Hebrews 7:27)

Other things I seek council on – and other things I pray about.

Meditation – I think this component of the devotion is slightly different than prayer. My meditation time is when I reflect back on what I’ve read. It still involves communication with God. It means me asking endless questions. “What do you mean by this God?” “How does this apply to me God?” “Is this something I should be doing God?” It makes me confront ME. It makes me examine what I want versus what God may be asking of me. It sets the stage for the next part. Prayer.

So why do I pray to God? The easy answer – because I’m told too. The hard more informative answer – because it allows me to communicate with God. What do I communicate with God? Because I’m told to tell Him EVERYTHING. Because I believe He cares about the littlest thing in my life.

But why? Why does He care? As “God” shouldn’t He know what’s good and bad in my life, what’s bothering me? Well, yes He should … and I believe He does … but see – I think a large reason for prayer is for communication.

Haven’t you had a friend who you’ve known is worried/distressed about something. Don’t you feel included and “special” when the open up and tell you “really” what’s going on in their life? Yep – I think God’s like that. He wants to hear from us … in our own words what’s on our minds.

Plus – don’t you gain a different perspective sometimes after you’ve talked to someone about a problem? I do. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what my friend says (sometimes they don’t have to say anything at all), the mere process of turning thoughts into words – helps me; organizes me; enlightens me; illuminates actions within my life I was oblivious to before prayer.

So I think that’s one of the reasons God wants me to pray. He wants to hear from me… and he wants me to “think” about what’s going on in my life.

How do pray? Let me just start off by saying, “Moi”? Not good at regular, daily, consistent prayer . I know I should pray in a specific place and at a set time when I can block out the distractions of life. Time when I can concentrate on what I’m doing. Without interruptions. I don’t think it matters if I pray first thing in the morning, last thing at night – or in the middle of the day. I just think God wants a portion of my prayers to be “undivided” … as in giving God my undivided attention. But just because I know and think, doesn't mean I consistently "DO".

I think some ways of praying to God work better for me than others. I get more out of my prayer life when I start off by thanking God first. You know – acknowledging what I have before I start in on what’s missing. I seem to receive more (emotionally) if I ask for God’s will and insight before I start the linty of what I want from Him.

So is it right for me to ask God for “things”? Boy this is a tough one, isn’t it? But yes, I think He wants me to ask. Once again – if I put it into words – then I have to examine what I’m asking for … and why I’m asking for it.

Why do I pray for other people? I don’t know. I struggle with this all the time. Is God holding a popularity contest? Whoever gets the most prayers … gets healed? Saved? The operation? The remission? No, that can’t be God’s purpose. Hmmm – maybe because if I’m praying for other people … I’m looking outside of my self-centered life? I strongly think that may be a primary reason.

How about; if I’m praying for someone – and they know it, it edifies them? Strengthens them? Encourages them? Yep – I think that’s a strong secondary purpose for prayer. It creates community – and the person who’s being prayed for feels supported.

Journaling – This is a part of my devotional that I learned about six years ago. I was frustrated with my prayer life. It didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. I’d give God the “grocery list” every night … and everyday? I’d think of more things to put on the grocery list. Then when I had a bad day? I’d say to myself, “See God doesn’t care. Look at all the things you’ve asked for … what has He done for you?” Invariably my answer to myself was “nothing”.

Then I started writing down WHAT I prayed for each night. And then the next night before I started down the grocery list I’d review the list from the night before. Had anything changed? Rarely was there a big change. Like when I prayed for a new job. I didn’t get a new job the next day. Not even in the next month. But … when I prayed about how to write a good resume? I read an article that week on resume writing. A little thing. A little answered prayer.

What I learned was the more I broke down the big things into little things … “action steps”, I could see God working in my life. Not only that – but when I wrote down the results? It was pretty hard to argue God wasn’t listening to me – or working in my life.

So my Devotion time and Prayer life right now must be wonderful! I wish I could say they are – but I can’t. It’s like everything else. It’s much easier to put it off. Being disciplined about devotion and prayer is hard work.

Who likes hard work? Sometimes it’s painful. The most frequent style of prayer life God experiences with me is the “Answering Machine” prayer cycle. I call God up – a hundred times a day – and say this: “Hey God, it’s Moi! Can you do something about X? Thanks God! Talk to you later.” Click, and I disconnect. A few minutes later I’m “on the phone again”.

“Hey God, it’s Moi again! I forgot to mention X, Y, and Z! Also, I told so-and-so I’d pray for them … so will you take care of it? Ohhh… and this damn slow driver in front of me. Will you get him out of my way? Thanks again God! I’ll talk to you later.”

There are good things … and bad things about this prayer life. The good thing is at least I’m talking to God. I’m sure He’s glad I haven’t forgotten about him. But the bad things … well. Did you notice there was a SINGLE good thing … but I’m getting ready to list a bunch of bad things? Because really, I think the bad outweighs the good. Here it is:

All the communication is one sided. Me to Him. I’m not giving Him much opportunity to respond. I’m not being very thoughtful, introspective, or diligent in this style of communication. Don’t you just hate it when you play endless phone tag with friends and family? You might here the news or get the message, but there’s not much dialogue going on. It’s pretty silted. And definitely one way.

So why’d you write about this Moi? So I could “see” what’s going on with me. So I could acknowledge my short comings, remind myself of the benefits I’m missing, and reaffirm the positive aspects of prayer I’ve experienced in the past. And to …. Uhhh…. Damn. Make a commitment to myself and God. To start again. To be more diligent and thoughtful in my devotions. To make myself accountable. (Crap). To God, to me, and to you.


Keetha said...

Wow, Mit Moi. GREAT post. So much food for thought. Thank you for sharing --

Anonymous said...

I think most of us can identify with your method of praying - I know I can !