I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our super-spiritual projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’
— Matthew 7:22-23 MSG
Why does it seem so difficult for those of us who claim to be in a relationship with Jesus to actually spend time with Him, particularly quality time during prayer? We eagerly spend time in prayer and make sure we pray in His name, yet rarely do we get the answers or the healings we seek.
My own first attempts at prayer were simply reading the Bible out loud. Of course I did not realize I was praying, but have since learned it is one form of prayer. At some point I started trying various forms prayer that I had read about and in the end developed a style of prayer that I fondly called my Four-Step Plan. It went something like this:
- I sat down in an easy chair with my morning coffee.
- Opened a Bible to whichever page that struck my fancy or even played God roulette and just let the Bible fall open to a page. I would then read a sentence here or there, on good days a few paragraphs.
- As I closed the Bible, I got serious and started to pray about what I just read. The prayer of course started with thanking God and quickly moved on to reflection of what as just read. After 2 or 3 minutes, which included my thanking God, I would open up my prayer list containing my on-going personal desires.
- Once I was sure God was properly reminded of what I needed, I finished my coffee and left for work.
While it looked great on paper, my prayer time still lacked answers or healings. I started to question the need to pray since God did not show up when I prayed. Don’t misunderstand me. I understood as a Christian I should pray, but was discouraged with lack of answers. I reckoned perhaps prayer was not one of my “spiritual gifts”—a phrase I kept hearing about that describes your Christian skill set.
When I really thought about it, I even questioned the whole purpose of prayer. After all, an omniscient God would already know how I was going to pray. Why waste both of our time?
New approach, same answers. But now I could tell myself since I was not specifically asking, why would God specifically answer? To add to my frustration, people around me were always explaining how God had told them such and such during their prayer time. Obviously I had either missed something or else had somehow gotten on God’s naughty list. Happy to discuss my line of reasoning on another post.
I asked those same people what were they doing when they heard from God and I kept hearing the same answer, “nothing”. Well heck, that was exactly what I had been doing for several years now. Why was God answering their nothings and silent on mine? Was I simply bad at doing nothing?
During this struggle with prayer, I was also coming to terms with my concept of God. If He existed, which I believed with my very life, how did He act and feel? I mean if He had a Linked-In page, what would be on it? After all, the Bible does not exactly fit on a two page resume. Not finding one, I summarize one for Him, which has become my list of core beliefs.
As those beliefs formed my understanding of God, I realized that if God’s character is relational, I was not, at least in my prayer life. My wife and myself had a similar problem in hearing each other. Turns out I was trying to “fix” a problem I felt we had rather than give her “what she needed”. Simply put, she needed time, time with me, and no excuses. Now, each Saturday morning once breakfast and coffee is out of the way, we talk and pray until she is done with both—during which I often just listen, allow her to finish, and then say yes more often than no.
Prayer was never about a time to ask for those things I wanted, but rather a time to wait, wait and hear what God needed from me. After all, I accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. Lord by its very definition is someone in power and authority over you, not the other way around. Nor is Jesus a harsh Lord. On the contrary, He is extremely gentle. For me, He calmly and lovingly waited me out until I figured out who was actually in charge.
I no longer have what people would call a prayer time. While I still spend the first part of my day with my list of wants, time is now spent discussing whether or not those things are good for me. More importantly, I stick around to hear what He has to say and what He may have planned for me that day. The two of us just spend the time talking.
If I were to revise my Four-Step Plan, Step Four would read something like this: Once I am sure God is finished talking, I finish my coffee and go to work.
Blessings in the name of Jesus Christ,