Be still and know that I am God… Psa. 46:10
I love to pray. In fact, I adhere to Paul’s admonition in his first letter to the Thessalonians (5:17) that we “pray without ceasing.”
When I step out the door first thing in the morning I thank God for the beautiful day. When I’m about to get on the interstate and risk life and limb to get to work I pray that He will keep me safe. (I also ask Him to forgive me when I selfishly speed up just a little to keep someone from merging in front of me…)
I’m a member of the prayer team at church. When I say I’m going to pray for you I do so until you get well, or get the job, or get a clue. Sometimes I’m praying for you and you don’t even know it (and whether you like it or not).
When I pray, I know that I become like E. F. Hutton: God listens. Next to His gift of salvation through grace, one of the most amazing things to me is that He welcomes me – me… broken, struggling, prideful, constantly-in-need-of-forgiveness me – into His presence whenever I want for an intimate conversation. Not a formal audience, as one would expect when standing in the presence of the creator of the universe, but a conversation. And, if I let Him, He’ll do most of the talking.
Yep – I love to pray.
So here’s the deal: Even though I pray frequently throughout the day in short spurts, when it comes time to hunker down for Prayer Time, capital “P”, capital “T” – the time when I praise and thank God and pray for guidance and help and blessings and growth and my lost friends and family members (again, whether they like it or not) – I sometimes feel like I’m just talking to myself. Not always, but often enough that I occasionally find myself putting it off until it’s late and I’m tired and I end up speeding through it like I’m reciting the aria “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville. (Fi-ga-ro, Figaro, Figaro, FigaroFigaroFigaroFigaroFigaroFigaroFigaroFigaroFigaro…)
I’ve read articles on prayer, downloaded sermons on praying great prayers – I even went to an all-day prayer conference in South Florida. If it hadn’t been for going a day early and hanging out at the beach, it would have been a total waste. Just sayin’…
I’ve used all the prayer mnemonics: P.R.A.Y. (Praise Repent Ask Yield) and A.C.T.S. (Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication). I’ve prayed the prayer of Jabez from 1 Chronicles 4:10 and the Lord’s prayer – all great aids in helping to structure Prayer Time. But instead of just having two-way communion with the Lord, I sometimes end up trying to drive the conversation and cover everything and everybody on my checklist in the alloted time – the lost, the sick, thank you, praise you, bless me. Sometimes I approach Prayer Time just like I do a project at work – play to my strengths, shoot for excellence, and end up doing a job I’m proud of.
Which all circles back to pride. Pride… Oy – that part of me that still wants to be in control and manage my relationship with God my way. Pride is great for being successful at work but deadly when it comes to my spiritual life.
The Hebrew word translated “be still” in Psalm 46:10 could also be translated “let go,” “be weak,” or “stop trying so hard to impress.” (OK – I just made that last one up, but it kind of fits.) God doesn’t expect me to get a “superior performance” in prayer; He wants to share Prayer Time with me – again, me… the broken, struggling, prideful, constantly-in-need-of-forgiveness me who He lovingly lifted up from the miry clay, spun around 180°, and set on solid ground; the me who needs more than anything to just let go, be weak, stop trying so hard to impress, and have a conversation from the heart with my Heavenly Father.
It’s important to note that God doesn’t always just leave me totally alone and cooling my heels on the threshold of His throne room (at least not for long). Just when I need it most He breaks through my wilfulness and intercedes. To illustrate…
I’ve been working on this article for a few days now (everything in God’s time) and struggling with saying what He wanted me to say and not what I wanted to say. Apparently, it was time for me to finish, so He moved the process along a little with an object lesson this morning.
As I geared up for Prayer Time today, I mentally pulled out my checklist and launched into my monologue (lost, sick, thanks, praise, blessings).
You could have heard crickets. (I know what performers mean by “flop sweat”.)
I tried confession – nope. I tried shutting up – all I heard was the sound of my own breathing. Frustration set in and I asked God what my problem was – what was I doing wrong? I gave up and charged on through (FigaroFigaroFigaroFigaroFigaro) so I could say I did it, sulked into the kitchen, and made breakfast.
As I sat down at my kitchen table and closed my eyes to pray the simplest of prayers – thanks for the food He set before me – there He was. He opened my heart and we had a conversation – the kind I longed for that morning and every morning. Short, but definitely sweet. He showed me why there were sometimes crickets, flop sweat, and silence – it’s good to pray for myself and others, but there’s more to Prayer Time than the checklist. He reminded me what communion with Him was all about – listening more than talking and letting Him teach me to pray according to His will. He let me see how precious Prayer Time could be if I would just be still… let go… be weak… stop trying to impress Him and acknowledge that He’s God and He’s in control. And I’m not.
In that few seconds of communion with Almighty God and thanking Him for my oatmeal, I was ready to finish writing this article.
Will I end up trying to be in control of Prayer Time again with nothing but crickets and silence? I don’t know – maybe, but hopefully not. Will He be there waiting patiently for me to be still and know that He is God?