I have never been great at prayer.
In its most simplistic form, prayer is talking with God.
2013 proved to be the year that I took prayer back to that – a conversation with God that wasn’t burdened down with me trying to say the right thing or “be the reason for God to do something.” Without really trying, I began a journey to pray at the beginning of the year that was transforming. But I have been a pastor for over 23 years, why now? I am not negating the times of prayer in the past. In fact, I look back on those and realize that I have a strong foundation of praying through a number of life situations where only God could have been the answer. I am grateful that God works mightily even when we have “chinks in our armor.”
Here is what I learned about prayer over the year.
It is not results based. I am not supposed to pray so I can “get what I want” or convince God that my desires are what needs to happen. In fact, on my prayer walk this morning, I was talking to God about one of my “no limits” prayers. As I was pouring out all that I wanted to see God do, I made the following statement. “You know, it isn’t me against You.” As soon as I said it, I realized that I was pitting me against Him. My will vs. His will. Honestly, this is a big struggle for all of us. I was praying for something that was on my heart, that I wanted, that I felt was the best thing and that I wanted to see come to pass. Lots of “I’s” in a two way relationship, huh. As soon as I said it, I stopped talking and starting listening. I realized pretty quick that God was saying, “I am never against you.”
Last year, I took the Freedom class offered by GFC. I really loved the class because I wasn’t pastoring, I was a student on a quest to get rid of the extra baggage in my relationship with God. I loved challenging myself in the different topics. I found out that prayer was one of those areas because I would be disappointed with God when I didn’t get prayers answered. So I began to limit my expectations of what God could do or I would explain away why God didn’t answer the prayer. God is not limited nor does he need me to defend Him when a prayer doesn’t go the way I thought it should. It really showed me that i could pray based on God’s word and His promises and with full faith that He can do it. If I approach prayer with that attitude, then the rest is up to Him. I can truly approach God with a freedom, in faith, that allows Him to do his will without any baggage from me.
It is a conversation. I had just finished one of my early Sunday morning prayer times in the GFC sanctuary before the morning services. I started that early in 2013 and I really cherish the times of just walking the sanctuary and praying each week. I was going up to my office and I remember thinking, “that was a great time of prayer.” As soon as I thought it, I felt God nudge me with this question – “Why was it so great?” “Because I prayed everything on my list and it was expressed clearly and God heard my heart?” Then the dart came from Him “What did I say?” I stopped walking…I could not think of one thought or nugget I received from God in my time of prayer. I accomplished my list but God never had a chance to reply.
I read a great book early in the year – “Practicing the Presence of Jesus” by Wally Armstrong. He shared the principle of praying like you are talking to Jesus, sitting in a chair across from you. I began to pray like I was sitting next to or walking with God right beside me. Such a small twist in my prayer life but it was transformational to me. I found myself listening way more than talking. In doing so, I would find myself with a thought or a nugget after my prayer time that would last throughout my day. I don’t try to get through my list anymore. Instead, I just pray a conversation and share what I feel about each of the topics that come up in the conversation. I can sum it up in one phrase – “I learn (and grow) a lot more when I am listening.”
I will not “check” it off my to-do list. I am definitely one of those people who loves accomplishing tasks. For so long, prayer and reading my bible became one of the things on my “to -do” list. I took all the pressure off of myself this year to do this every day. My wife is a great example of this. She isn’t a task driven person – she is a pure visionary person. She still accomplishes a lot of things but rarely beats herself up for missing a task. Yet, she always hits her deadlines and deliverables. I decided that God wasn’t up in heaven ready to take a swipe at me if I didn’t accomplish the daily task of praying. By moving into a more relational approach, I find I actually do a lot of “short” prayer times throughout the day. I am talking and listening to God way more by just releasing myself of the pressure to do it. Sounds nutty but it has refreshed my times of prayer in a big way.
Finally, I am totally honest and blunt with God. I can’t say this has been a radical change for me this year but as a pastor, I get questions about how to be “honest” with God. If this is truly a relationship, then I would hope that you are being truthful with God about how you feel, react, or view a situation. God, who knows all things, isn’t going to be surprised by your feelings and emotions. I look at the life of David in the Bible and he shared the whole range of emotions, victories and challenges in the book of Psalms and throughout his life story. God credited him as a “man after his own heart.” Prayer isn’t about a blind faith in God – it is vital part of an interactive relationship where you can share your inner most desires, challenges and aspirations. For example, when my three kids were children, I wanted them to obey without question. As they moved into the teenage years, there was a lot more dialogue about situations and we helped them make decisions. Now, as grown young adults, Kristin and I have moved into more of a “resource” mode – they are owning their decisions and we give advice as we are sought out. God’s word and truth never changes – it is the foundation for our relationship with Him. I believe our relationship grows and matures in God and my interaction and dialogue should do the same.
Prayer is not as tough as we make it sometimes. My hope for the New Year for all of us is a vibrant, growing conversation with the a Holy God who loves us enough to have a conversation with us today.