Behind the Door
It’s been over eight years since one of the most significant conversations that I’ve ever had. I had driven two hours from my home to visit with one of my mentors. We went for lunch and then took a walk around the campus at the Bible College where he teaches. Our conversation that day had little to do with theology training. Rather, my interest on that day was to glean some of his insights regarding long term health for the church where the Lord had called me to serve; and for myself, amid all the demands (those that are clear and those implied or assumed).
In eager expectation I waited for a long list or two; perhaps a “to do” and a “not to do” list. I expected, based on my conversations with others, a list of techniques, strategies, even models for pastoral success. What I received that day was not what I expected, but something I have never forgotten and will forever treasure: “Your greatest investment will be time spent in prayer. Take time, don’t wait for time, to pray for your congregation, everyday.”
My thoughts, no doubt my expression and I’m sure a few words communicated: “How can my greatest investment be largely unseen? That doesn’t measure up to our training to succeed and accomplish; to build and to conquer.” His reply “Your greatest investment for the long term benefit of the church and yourself, will be time spent in prayer, everyday.”
Mary Kate Morse, in her book, A Guidebook to Prayer: 24 Ways to Walk with God, brings me back to that conversation from eight years ago, when she says: “Prayer is more than a practice. It is a living adventure with a relational and risen Lord (Loc. 145-146)…For most of us the issue is not the abundant presence of God but our limited attention to it (Loc. 215-216). ” That phrase caught my attention, abundant presence of God. The insight regarding these 24 ways of walking with God were intriguing in presenting the practice of prayer from some new perspectives. However, I found myself thinking less about the practice and more about the promise of God’s abundant presence in prayer.
Jesus’ gave a similar invitation regarding prayer, when he talked about what a room or closet. I often thought of this room like a closet, small, cluttered or dark. But I have come to deeply appreciate the way “The Message” communicates this invitation to find out what lies behind the door:
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” (Matthew 6:6)
When our focus is on the presence of our Holy God, we should allow ourselves to linger. In so doing we come to realize that it is not a small closet, but it is a large room where, despite the fact that His Light penetrates even the darkest most remote corners of our thinking, the best of God’s blessings reside, and that He desperately wants to share some of them with us and talk to us about the others, so that we can be encouraged, strengthened and comforted as we learn to serve His purposes for His glory. He wants us to discover that it is a place worth coming to everyday, several times a day.
Amid the many parts of that room, is a place where I continue to be shaped by the Lord’s Prayer. While I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, I did grow up in a public school that read the Lord’s Prayer every morning over the public address system. I was familiar with the words, but they never really caused me to consider their meaning, nor did the bring any change in my life, particularly as Morse describes it: “The Lord’s Prayer, then, contains in it all the important fundamentals of Jesus’ proclamation. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we affirm Jesus Christ’s priorities and we join with the catholic (meaning all-embracing or universal) church throughout time and place, proclaiming our united calling.” (Loc. 1602-1604)
However, over the course of these last number of years in particular I have come to be shaped by the example and the very words themselves. Three things that I am willing to share about what I’ve learned behind the door are:
- The prayer for “daily bread” is a prayer for provision. There have been times in our lives where this prayer fulfilled that meaning; however these words are now teaching us about contentment for ourselves and provision for others – being satisfied in the daily provision and being generous with any increase.
- The importance of praying for “deliverance from evil”. The unseen forces that battle around us cannot be taken for granted. To pray for protection from evil is vital for the life of a community, a church, a family and an individual. But it is not easy to sustain that prayer.
- The acknowledgement of the “hallowed name” of Our God and our declarative allegiance to submit ourselves to His Power and for His Glory, takes a lot of inward wrestling against the relentless push of our own ego and goals – a quick stop into the room can never be enough.
That’s just one part of what’s behind the door that Jesus invites us into in order to discover the blessings that await us in prayer. Morse’s book describes 23 other areas behind that door and I would venture to guess that there are more to be discovered if we only were to “take time” rather than “wait for time” to discover them.
What are the challenges that you face in “taking time” for prayer?
How have you overcome those challenges?
9 responses to “Behind the Door”
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Deve, thanks for a very thoughtful and important blog post. It brought to mind a phone conversation I had with my daughter just three days ago. She called in tears because a student she had invested her heart in had basically told her she didn’t have time this semester to be involved in their ministry. As they are in the midst of rebuilding the group, where every student counts, this was especially hurtful. Having done campus ministry for 23 years, it brought back a lot of my own heartache (read: anger!) caused by the students I worked with. What I told her in a way is reflected in your post, as I encouraged her to not only pray for this student, but to seek God for His direction and working in the ministry. I said how often I wanted to fix the group, to make things WORK, to make things happen…but those efforts more often than not failed.,,,big time! Because they were my efforts. How hard it is to rely on prayer, especially when things don’t seem to be going your way. Prayer seems so unproductive! So, your instructions from your mentor are so right on. Aren’t we much further ahead when we invite God into our ministry, giving Him space to work, as well as seeing His very real presence already in one’s ministry. This way you simply need join His work and not do His work for Him. It is better than trying to fix things your way. Indeed our biggest investment will be those unseen times! What tremendous wisdom. You were blessed to have such a wise mentor. I pray my daughter will take to heart the same lesson. Thanks Deve!
John, thanks for sharing this story with me…I was reminded this week as well that often in ministry we don’t get to see the “end product” of our efforts. Many times our role is to come alongside someone for a God-given purpose and then they move on…which can definitely be frustrating (also read: angering or confusing). Yet, I was reminded this week that we are called to be faithful to Him in our ministry, and that He will complete His work in their lives and our lives. More often than not, we will not witness the fruit of our labours but may we help each other be faithful.
Deve, enjoyed reading your blog. Marykate writes on an important topic. I am always interested in people’s perspectives on prayer. Your use of the image of the door and what’s behind it was help. I also like the line “if we only were to “take time” rather than “wait for time” to discover them”, the many and different ways ” … behind that door”
I have observed the culture church build around a subject like prayer. Some churches have effective way of organizing congregants for collective prayer and other end up creating barriers at time.
How has your church approached the need to encourage people in the congregation in the prayer life along with others areas?
Thank you Deve
Great question Michael…when I first started at the church there was a thought that our prayer life was measured by who attended the specified prayer meeting each week. That hour on that particular day was the barometer. However, we have come to realize that people want to pray and do pray, some pray alone, others will pray in groups; so we have tried to vary the ways in which we encourage and provide opportunity for people to pray. A good indication of that sense toward prayer has been the spontaneous care for others that has resulted. It’s definitely a continual work in progress…which never feels sufficient…
Refreshing and spot on! I like your friend and his admonition to you. I so agree.
Frankly, I don’t know many people of prayer any more. I wonder why that is, but it is pretty easy to guess. Stuff. Distractions. Busyness. These are just a few of the reasons for prayerlessness. But I can only actually speak for myself, since I do not know how much others pray; I only know how much I don’t. But that is not my desire, only my reality.
I love that you shared some of what you have been learning behind the closed door, especially number two. I wholeheartedly agree that this kind of prayer, especially, is hard to sustain.
Many years ago I had a prayer meeting at my house on Tuesday evenings. It was always work, hard work. But it was worth it, and I am convinced that this was the reason that our ministry was so fruitful. The most amazing thing that happened at these meetings was that sometimes God showed up. This is hard to explain, but it is true; sometimes God blessed us with His presence. I will never forget these times. But am I willing to do the work to see this again? As you know after reading my post, I just started another prayer meeting. My hope and prayer above all others is that I would again be able to experience God’s showing up. I am not talking about emotions here but about experiencing His presence. I am sure you know what I mean. I will let you know what I learn from these meetings as time unfolds.
Finally, Deve, thanks for sharing here. It touched my soul to know that you are a pastor who prays. Keep listening to your mentor.
Hey Professor, I’m slow to learn about prayer for sure…but as I do, I will be praying for you that you will indeed know the nearness of God’s presence in your everyday life. Thanks for persevering…
Thanks for your post. Specifically, I really enjoyed: 1) Your personal encounter with your mentor and 2) Your insights on walking with God thought the Lord’s Prayer.
I can imagine the conversation with your mentor – the anticipation on your part fits our modernistic mindset – confronting problems and challenges with a step list based on reasonable and personally attainable concepts and practices. Your reaction is understandable – your mentor’s response is the sure and most powerful way to invest in your ministry. Though our interaction at the face-to-face and our online connections, you have exposed your pastoral heart; I am sure you have followed your mentor’s wise council and been an example to those in the flock. Your prayer life testimony illuminates your heart for others, that you might “encourage, strengthen, and comfort” those you serve. This is a great lesson for me to take the time to focus my prayer life.
I love your thoughts on Matthew 6:6 in relation to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 9-13. The connection in context is helpful in interpreting Jesus’ instruction and command and answer to the question of how we should pray. MaryKate writes in a devotional story genre which I love. I have, however, greatly appreciated in her writing (A guidebook to Prayer and Making Room for Leadership) how she weaves in exegetical background and teaching. I have linked her text on the “you Affirmations” and the “We Petitions” to my study materials on the Lord’s Prayer. Phenomenally great!
Ron, I definitely have to audit myself and have accountability on this facet of prayer (as it relates to congregational life) knowing that the “to do” list is always full. But this I do know, the Lord loves our church family even more than I do and sees their needs and the next steps much better than I can…so my resolve is to look to the Lord together with them; which is one of the reasons that I love the Lord’s Prayer, because Jesus is with His disciples and inviting them to relate to His Father in the way He knows His Father will respond best…very humbling and powerful and mind-boggling…
Deve, I appreciated your thoughts and insight in your post. Excellent advice – “Your greatest investment will be time spent in prayer. Take time, don’t wait for time, to pray for your congregation, everyday.” I have found this to be true. I had a sign in my office and refrigerator door that says: Prayer is your first response, not your last resort. Too often we pray as our last resort–perhaps because “we don’t have time.” But as you reminded us, “take time” rather than “wait for time” to discover what’s behind the door that Jesus invites us into. Thanks Deve!