At church we had a Thousand Days of Prayer. Now, this is not to say that our church was devoid of prayer or pray-ers before we began, or that it was all over and done with when we finished, but it was a specific focus for a specific length of time. We did things a bit differently. There were new initiatives and people have said over and over again that during this time they found new direction, or new depth, or new insight into prayer.
So what has changed?
Me? Are you asking me?
Ah. Well. I still don’t really know what prayer is. I have more books on my shelves about it than I had before; indeed I’m reading one right now. Two actually.
I know that prayer is a way of meeting with you. If I could only learn to do it right I think that I would find that many things slipped into place. I think cultivating a consistent and faithful prayer life is a way of tuning in to your heart – the more time I spend with you in prayer, the more likely I am to recognise your voice in my life, and to discern the course you would have me take. Therefore, I am more likely to walk closely by your side, and more likely to fulfil my potential. Live fully.
So why is it so hard? To draw close to you and listen as well as rabbit on. To be still. I have time to read, plant seeds (even if I then forget to water them), to have coffee with friends and surf the internet – why are you, the Creator of the Universe, Almighty God, so often bottom of the list?
Coffee with Jesus, then. Right now. Caf or decaf? Fancy a custard cream?
Prayer is a privilege. An honour to have your ear. I’m sorry that so often I bend it with my selfish little woes and worries and then dash off before you get to chip in with anything that you want to say.
So here is what I have learned during our Thousand Days of Prayer.
I glance at you momentarily and you are so pleased with me that you bathe me in the beauty and light of your steady gaze.
We make eye contact, you and me. I always look away first.
I’ve learned that whatever prayer is, it is many things. I’ve learned that I can spend a day with a special friend and we talk about you. We talk about our hopes, our dreams, our plans and our troubles and we constantly dip back into you as we talk. We’re getting better at it, these days. We are starting to know when to say, ‘No, that’s not how it is. That isn’t the truth.’
We sit at a table, my friend and I, and you sit there with us, as sure as eggs are eggs. Those mornings you are there too and we have come to recognise your presence. We sigh and we cry and yes, we complain and we lament – we could write our own psalms, and sometimes we do. But we laugh and we build and we cheer and we hope.
That’s prayer. It’s an offering to you. Imperfect, yes. But it’s full of your Spirit too. Whether we walk or sit, eat cake or do our best to abstain, you bless us. It’s praise and worship and prayer.
I’ve learned that you love me so much and that you love to hear me talk to you and that you don’t become angry and exasperated every time my attention wanders. That all isn’t lost if I fall asleep mid-prayer. That you are a God of infinite forgiveness and that you honour my efforts, small as they are. You know where my heart is. You’re patient with my baby steps and you are happy to take my hand and lead me to the next thing when I’m ready.
You don’t rush me. You don’t get irritable. You smile and you comfort and help me to follow.
I’ve learned that I pray best when I write down what I want to say. Whether it’s here, or in my journal, or in my Happy Book where I write down answered prayers and anecdotes and wonderful things that I’ve noticed, I have a need to record what’s in my head. It keeps me focused. (Well, more focused. Facebook and YouTube are only a click away).
I’ve learned that I don’t have to try to be someone I’m not when I’m with you. I don’t have to dress up my language to speak in a way that seems holier or more appropriate for a conversation with God. How amazing is that? You made me how I am. If I have something to say, you know it before I’ve said it, so where’s the point in translating it into lofty language as if somehow that’s more what you want? You see the raw me, there’s no hiding. Better just to say it. I’ve learned that you’re generous enough not to worry when I don’t express myself particularly well.
You’re all-knowing, after all. You get the gist easily enough.
I’ve noticed that when I do talk to you like this, time after time I start my prayer in one frame of mind and finish it in another. Whether it’s a childish rant about the unfairness of life, or a prayer of overwhelmed worship, you draw me to you and I cannot help but heal a little bit.
Your grace is beyond my imagination.
I’m beginning to learn to hear your voice in my life. To pay attention to the little things that appear in my head each day. To be faithful to those little nudges and suggestions – call this person, send a text to someone, ask a question. Tell them they look beautiful, don’t just think it. It’s amazing that when I do as I’m told in this respect I then find that the co-incidences pile up. They were just thinking about me! At that very moment they needed something very specific, and here it is! I’m starting to recognise that look of recognition and astonishment, and I’m realising more and more how you use people to get my attention this way, too.
Funny how there are more co-incidences when I pray.
I’ve learned that I don’t have to be on my knees to pray, though I’m certain there are times when that’s the way I should be. I’ve learned that I can walk down the street with my iPod playing music in my ears, and you and me can have a wonderful time together. I’ve learned that I can sit in the garden and watch a bumble bee and offer the delight in my heart to you, and that’s prayer just as surely as standing at the lectern in church with written intercession is prayer.
That I can sit on the edge of my daughter’s bed at night and kiss her forehead, inhale their warm fragrance and offer you the intensity of the emotion in my heart – the scale of my love for them, the guilt when I let them down, the hopes I have for them, the need to protect them, the overwhelming size of the job of being a mother. All that is prayer.
I’ve learned that I don’t need to have my hands together to pray. They can be full of dishes or shopping bags or busy tap-tapping at my computer. They can be full of small girls or compost and seedlings or cradling a cup of coffee, and still they can be open – to you.
When my hands are tightly clenched in fists, that’s when I’m struggling. When they’re balled up in rage, or when I’m holding onto something so tightly that my knuckles are white, that’s when I need to open my hands. That’s when, if I let you, you gently peel each finger back until my hands are open wide enough to receive the gifts that you want to give me.
And what gifts they are. Nothing I could grasp in this world compares, and yet so often I find my hands so full of trivial things that I don’t have room for the treasures you are holding out.
I’ve learned that I don’t need my eyes closed to pray. Quite often I find that it’s a positive disadvantage to close my eyes, as sleep is constantly on the agenda and a nap is far too tempting. I find over and over that if my eyes are open, properly open, then I see you close by. From ladybirds to lightning, rainbows and toothpasty smiles from my little girls, my eyes see your glory. The more I see, the more I pray.
It’s more than a shopping list of requests. Prayer is thanksgiving, worship, confession, amazement and recognition. It’s about falling on my face, shouting, scowling, crying and howling. Laughing with you, listening to you, accepting when I’m wrong. It’s about restoration, relaxation, a chat with a friend. Being stirred, challenged, comforted. It’s all those things and I’m not very good at it.
But I’m learning.
Lord God, thank you that there is no one way to pray, because we are all unique. The shape of my relationship with you is different from anyone else’s. Thankyou that you delight in our individuality and you don’t want us to mould ourselves to be all the same. Thankyou for liturgy and formality and for prayer where we lift our hands in the air and call out to you. Thankyou for silence and singing. For shouts and groans and tears and laughter, all of which you accept if we offer them to you as our prayer.
Thankyou for this thousand days of prayer. May it be only a beginning, because I suspect that a lifetime of thousand days won’t be enough to unravel it. We’ve just begun to dig below the surface and I know that this soil is so fertile that it’s worth going deeper and deeper.
Thankyou again that you take what little we give and you give us back so much.