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?