Ever sat with a friend and just felt like you were going through the motions? Like you were disconnected from the weight of their words? Like you were almost under water, seeing their mouths move and hearing sound come out but unable to make any sense of what is being said? Sometimes I confess, this is like my prayer life.
This has been a hard week of late nights, constant meetings, pressure to find the right solutions for our growing church, balancing too much to do with limited bandwidth to get it done. And ironically, as I prepare to preach this Sunday at Bethany North on the power of prayer, my own prayer life was like the detached self I just described. Sure prayer can be powerful but I’m too busy to let my morning bible reading really soak in. I offer up some prayers but they are calloused, cold, empty-hearted. Like going on a date with my wife but listening to headphones with music playing all night. I confess…my prayer life is often like this. Its like I don’t really just show up to spend time with God. I show up wearing headphones.
Why? When did I stop believing in the power of prayer? Why don’t I need prayer the way I need food and water and shelter? Why does it often feel so arbitrary?
These questions rattled around my head this morning as I detached from the world for a few hours and re-read the Lord’s prayer and some texts on prayer by the masters: Richard Foster, Frederick Buechner, Brennan Manning. I kept reading Jesus’s teaching on prayer, which we now categorize as the Lord’s Prayer and I couldnt’ get past the first line: “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” Do I call out to God in such a way? My Father? Like He is truly my loving father who just wants to spend time with me? Some times I pray like this, but all too often I confess, I miss Him completely in a passionless prayer life.
Then tonight, I stumble upon Buechner’s Telling Secrets. Buechner is a fascinating guy- a pastor and poet and a writer and a therapist. He excels at reporting on an authentic faith which is centered on God’s grace for our lives. He writes, “We believe in God- such as it is, we have faith- because certain things happened to us once and go on happening. We work and goof off, we love and dream, we have wonderful times and awful times, are cruelly hurt and hurt others cruelly, get mad and bored and scared stiff and ache with desire, do all such human things as these, and if our faith is not mainly just window dressing or a rabbit’s foot or fire insurance, it is because it grows out of precisely this kind of rich human compost. The God of biblical faith is the God who meets us at those moments in which for better or worse we are being most human, most ourselves, and if we lose touch with those moments, if we don’t stop from time to time to notice what is happening to us and around us and inside us, we run the tragic risk of losing touch with God too.”
Buechner goes on: “Sad to say the people who seem to lose touch with themselves and with God most conspicuously are of all things ministers…They proclaim above all else the staggeringly good news that God so loves the world that he is continually at work in our lives in the world in order to draw us, in love, closer and closer to Himself and to each other….but there is precious little in most of their preaching to suggest that they have rejoiced and suffered with the rest of humankind. If they draw on their own experience at all, it is usually for some little anecdote to illustrate a point or help make the pill go down but rarely if ever for an authentic, first-hand, flesh-and blood account of what it is like to love Christ, say, or to feel spiritually bankrupt, or get fed up with the whole religious enterprise.” Wow- I paused- this could be me. I could get so busy telling others about God’s love I could forget to experience myself.
We often thing we approach God in prayer when we’ve got all the answers, when we’ve showered up from our day’s work in the field and we can put on holy clothes and talk to God. No, it isn’t that way. It is the filth of our life that provides the compost for which faith grows. This is good news for us all. We must only come with our authentic selves, whether we are happy or sad, angry or joyful, or simply dirty from a long day’s work in the world. God is waiting for us to draw near.