Lately I’ve been struggling with prayer.
I think it’s something most of us go through from time to time. Specifically, I’ve been struggling with finding the balance between spontaneity and discipline.
In many ways, I like the idea of a prayer journal- keeping a record of my prayers and God’s answers. It is encouraging to have something like that to look back on and remember what God has done. It’s too easy though for praying through a list to become dull and dry- just another thing to do each day.
And sometimes it feels that I am just trying to give God a to-do list, telling him what outcome I would like in a situation: help me with this, heal this person, change these circumstances…
There has to be more to it than that.
But when I dispense with the list and make prayer more spontaneous, it just doesn’t happen often enough. When I do pray without an agenda, it is better, and it feels more authentic, but distractions crowd in and prevent it from happening as often as I’d like. I feel that I’m missing out people and situations I should be praying for. I say I’ll pray for someone and I do- once- but I’d like to be more disciplined in continuing to pray for them.
Finding the balance is not easy.
There was a moment of insight this week though, where God seemed to address my struggle.
Incidentally it came at a prayer meeting of a bunch of people, mostly in their 80s, who had been gathering together for prayer once a month for over 60 years! That is commitment and faithfulness to prayer!
I had been invited along to share about a ministry I am involved in, and I was blessed so much by listening to them pray.
I was struck by the gratitude and the selflessness that characterised their prayers, and how they seemed to pray and bring their concerns before God in a way that went far beyond just “telling God what to do.”
The real moment of insight though came when one of them read out Psalm 5 from The Message. A phrase near the beginning grabbed my attention so forcefully that I hardly heard the rest of the Psalm for playing it over in my mind, trying to think about what it meant and how to live it out.
There are so many things I love about this verse.
It captures the discipline of praying every morning, laying out all the pieces of our lives and bringing each one before God, but it also captures the spontaneity in that it’s not at all dry and dull. It’s not approaching God with a fixed idea of what the outcome should be, or just automatically praying through a list, but it is coming with humility and openness.
I love the image of presenting the pieces of our lives as an offering to God- laying them on the altar, surrendering them- and then watching expectantly to see how he will answer.
It’s a powerful reminder that it’s not our prayers that make the difference but the God we’re praying to. It’s not about praying our best prayers so that God will bless our relationships and activities. It’s about surrendering our lives to God and seeing what he will do with them, and it’s important to do that regularly- I know how easy it is to hand situations over to God only to quickly take them back again.
So my challenge for this week, to myself and to you too if you’d like to join me, is to try this approach.
Laying out the pieces, watching for the fire to descend, waiting expectantly to see what God will do.