Learning to Pray
Prayer has been an elusive discipline over the fifty years of my spiritual journey. While never disputing its intended significance in my early years, it seemed unproductive.
I grew up in a small midwestern denomination whose leaders were known for their sacrificial spirit. As a boy, I remember learning that our pastor and his wife determined to forego a Christmas tree, and in its place, spray painted a large tumbleweed. They gave the money they saved to Bible college students who were in need.
Nevertheless, the denomination that they led and prayed fervently for did not prosper. Yet everyone knew they were pray-ers. I did not understand this.
In Shadowlands, the poignant drama of the relationship of C. S. Lewis and his wife Joy Davidson, we watch as Joy is diagnosed with bone cancer. A colleague is trying to comfort Lewis by saying that prayer can change things. Lewis passionately responds, “I do not pray because it changes God, I pray because I cannot help it.”
This, however, left me confused again, for how did this relate to the “move mountains” prayer passages of Scripture?
I am still not out of the woods, but I now find, with Lewis, I pray because I cannot help it. Prayer has ceased to be a “list”—though I have my lists—but rather, in praying I have the assurance that “I am not alone.” While I still have things that I want changed, having a person to journey with is equally important. Just as the Christmas story reminds us, “God with us.”
Just as my communication with my wife Marcy is not always, or even most of the time, about changing something, but rather sharing something, so my walk with the Lord has moved from goals to relationship.
Along with relationship comes the reduction of anxiety. “Be anxious for nothing,” says Paul. Some people are more stoic than others, but anxiety runs in my family; yet I don’t need to allow it to gain a foothold. Anxiety is fed by the toxic cocktail of fear and fear is often best overcome, not by reason, but by relationship.
And the thing that lightens my spirit the most, is that when I pray, I feel grateful and express gratitude. I am in some way similar to the soldier who does not understand why the soldier next to him got hit, but he did not. It seems so random. I cannot explain such things, but I know that the Lord has been kind and gracious to me and those I love, and I feel overwhelmed by gratitude. Paul tells us to pray “with thanksgiving.” That seems more real to me today than a decade ago. I have not always been thankful. I would not say ungrateful, but unaware of the kindnesses of God and the things averted because of His love.
Just prior to my writing this blog I started on a prayer for 2021, an expression that would transcend the daily needs. For sure, I have a list, for Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want?” But there is a warmth in my spirit, not because I get what I want, but rather because my soul has found a home.