DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Do you love Me?

Written by: on January 23, 2015

“Prayer is not an event, but a life. It is not a petition but a love relationship with one God, expressed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” [1]

I love this statement, particularly that prayer is a love relationship with God. It is. Oh, it is.

I have long taught, and known, that prayer is not an event, but an on-going conversation with my closest, deepest friend, father, lover, co-conspirator … God. But the practice of prayer has also been a challenge for me. My brain goes so many places at the same time. If I pray silently when I am alone, I quickly lose focus, I get distracted. “Oh look! Something shiny!” Perhaps it is thoughts about my day, my next activity, things that happened. It helps me to pray out loud, or to journal, because that helps me to focus. It’s interesting, because the most significant conversations I have or ever will have, I have with Someone who I cannot see; who’s voice I do not audibly hear.

For the past three or so years, my church has been without a pastor. We have a leadership team of which I am a member, that takes shared responsibility for our community. We have met regularly the past three years with a coach from our denomination, Dan. One of the first things that Dan asked each of us as leaders to do was to form a prayer team. He wanted each of us to have three to five people, from outside of the church, who would pray for us each week. There were two consistent requests we were to have, in addition to other personal and corporate needs: prayer for protection, and prayer for wisdom. It is based on the acknowledgement that apart from God, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Early on, finding consistent prayer partners was a genuine challenge for me. There was a desire from others to pray, but a challenge to follow through. Who would be consistent? Even I struggled to be consistent. I shared my struggle with my dearest friend from college, Debbie. She and her husband were preparing to move to Nepal to serve the Lord there. We made a commitment to pray for each other, and we established a structure. Every Monday morning I get up before the sun rises to participate in an on-line chat with my DMin cohort. Mornings, and pre-dawn hours, are not my prime time. But since I’m up, and have consistent open time right after our chat, I pray for Debbie. I write to her, share what is going on, and pray for she and Daniel’s hopes and concerns. And for their protection, peace, and wisdom. Debbie does the same for me every Monday. Now that they are in Nepal, and there is a twelve hour time difference, her email prayer is often waiting for me when I log on in the morning. It is a far better way to start my early Monday mornings. Better, I have found a greater desire to pray outside of that time, both for Debbie and in general.

Interestingly, the quality of our prayer teams has directly correlated with the health of our church leadership team and our church. For me, particularly because of this prayer with Debbie, the past year has brought greater consistency and encouragement. Sadly, others have struggled. Morse notes a comment by George Barna that in all of his research, the most consistent indicator of church growth or success is prayer. [2] Our leadership team has come under attack in many ways. One person stepped out of leadership. We have prayed for vision and direction, and found ourselves empty. This weekend we will meet with our coach and consider the options, one of which is to bring this small church to a close. It is a difficult place to be.

So you would think that I would focus all of my conversations with God on my church this week. But as I read Morse’ book, I found myself drawn to two specific aspects of prayer. Morse walks the reader through relationship with Father, Son and Spirit, and offers practical insights to pray in groups, with partners, and individually, around specific areas. I found myself focusing on work and rest.

Since my shoulder surgery last month, I have had a really hard time getting back into the swing of things. I wasn’t allowed to drive, or do a whole lot, for three weeks. And then all of a sudden, the same day that I was released to drive, I also started back to work. And then back to school a week later. One of my colleagues is on sabbatical this semester, so I have assumed her administrative responsibilities. The university also did some office re-locations over the holidays, so the first two weeks back at work I was in a temporary office space. Work was full of shifts, and I came home most nights exhausted and with higher pain levels. Work and Rest seemed a good thing to focus on.

Each morning I have taken the first five minutes of my work day to pray. I put a note up in my new office, just for me, that reads, “Five Minutes, and all day.” This seems like such an insignificant thing – five minutes. I have often talked with God about teaching and students, about the university, and my colleagues. But it has been random – as it occurred to me – not intentional. Taking those five minutes to focus, has led to my being more prompted to pray throughout the day. Not every day – not today – but starting my day by intentionally giving it to God overall had an impact.

Each night I have taken time to stop and enter into contemplative or rest prayer. Morse describes this as a time of quieting oneself, being still and silent. She gives some tips on how to focus, and she mentions that this stillness might be difficult for busy people. Our minds tend to wander. Still, I craved rest. I followed the same pattern each night. I got everything ready for morning. I did my physical therapy exercises. And then I laid back and went quiet (with the lights on). Morse mentioned that some people may use a simple phrase to focus on, or a picture. The first night a line from a worship song immediately popped into my mind, “Oh God, You are my God, and I will always love You.” There was a lit candle in the background which crackles. The ambient sound helped me to focus. The first night was great. Not profound, but I felt refreshed. Night two was not the same. I did not have the candle lit, and I struggled to focus. I was actually amazed at how I could “hear” the same worship line in my head and at the same time have thoughts about other things almost playing over the verse. I would re-focus, and at the end, I let myself simply be fascinated. Each night is just a little different, but I hope I will get better at simply resting in God’s presence.

Prayer is not a recipe for success. It isn’t always easy. Maybe that’s why Morse’s description of prayer as a love relationship is so essential to me. You have to want it. You have to pursue it. You cannot take it for granted. Because “it” is not some random thing, it is the holy God of the universe, Creator, Savior, Teacher and Comforter. I long for Him.

[1] MaryKate Morse, “A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four ways to walk with God,” Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2013, p. 16.
[2] Ibid, 14.

About the Author

mm

Julie Dodge

Julie loves coffee and warm summer days. She is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Concordia University, Portland, a consultant for non-profit organizations, and a leader at The Trinity Project.

9 responses to “Do you love Me?”

  1. mm Stefania Tarasut says:

    Julie, that’s such a great way to start your Monday morning… my only thought is “coffee” before the chat starts 🙂
    About prayer, you say, “you have to want it” – I would add that “you have to want it badly.”
    I long for Him too!

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    “Prayer is not a recipe for success.” – such a good reminder Julie. Prayer is not our means to get what we want to further the way we think we should be going. Prayer is our privilege of being in this love relationship with Our God. Thanks especially for sharing your personal present reality and that or your church family…I’ll be praying along with you.

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      Thank you for your prayers, Deve. We’re going to have a heart to heart talk with our little church family next Saturday, and deal with some tensions in our outreach at the park on Tuesday. I welcome your prayers and welcome your support.

      And yes, prayer is indeed our privilege. Also a good reminder.

  3. Hey Julie, very personal and self revealing post. I am with you on the struggle to stay focused when in prayer. It has helped me also to pray outloud and also to have a way of documenting what is going through my mind trying to destract me. I can grab them and write them down, capturing them lest they keep rambling around in my head trying to distract me. Once they are written down I can let them go knowing thatt I will not forget them and they will be addressed later.

    I have learned that I can stay focused when I am up and walking and praying. So in my small office I pace and pray and have a list ready to grab and nail down things that I need to do later. Other than Michelle and my kids I have not had a consistent prayer partner. I have heard, with envy, stories like yours who have a weekly time of prayer with someone either on the phone or in person. Though it was not a weekly prayer time, I did have a weekly breakfast meeting with a fellow minister that was so valuable to me. I miss that now. Thanks for your post and your openess. Bless you as you continue to seek His presence daily.

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      Hi Mitch – I also find that walking and pacing while I pray helps me focus. Funny about how our physical engagement can help us keep focused.

      I also have heard story after story from people, particularly people in ministry, who lack the opportunity to pray with someone regularly. It really does make a difference – the enemy wants to take us down and having faithful prayer partners is a way of building the army, so to speak. Thank God that He is faithful.

  4. Michael Badriaki says:

    Julie, thank you for such an engaging post. Your insights on prayer are compelling and I appreciate the personal testimony you’ve shared.
    Prayer is one of the aspect of life I cherish because I have experienced God’s touch there the most. As you have shared, a prayerful relationship with God is a life and I believe that with all the good and bad we experience in our world, the opportunity to pray and call to God is a tremendous gift.

    Thank you,

    Michael

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      Thank you, Michael, for your insights as well. I find that the quality of my prayer life is a direct reflection of my overall quality of relationship with God. I desire to be more and more like our Father, and I long for the good and still moments where I can be still and know that He is God. There is something about that – just sitting in His presence.

  5. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    Julie,
    thank you for the depth of your reflection. It was very meaningful for me to read through it as you shared about your recovery process and prayer.
    However, I want to focus on a lighter point…
    “Oh look, something shiny!” I laughed out loud. 🙂 And it’s certainly not because this ever happens to me. 😉
    I would simply like to submit while I appreciate and resonate with what you wrote about this, I would also like to suggest that perhaps prayer can also be recognizing that sometimes God is willing to and actually really wants to look at the shiny thing with us. I think part of deep prayer is simply realizing God’s presence remains with us as we enjoy the shiny thing and enjoys it with us too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *