DMINLGP

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

Walking Across The In Between

Written by: on January 23, 2015

In some ways prayer is that in between place. G.K. Chesterton described the difference between talking about prayer and praying as the difference between blowing a kiss and kissing.[1] One communicates an intention, while the other acts revealing desire, commitment and affection. It is not that talking about prayer lacks desire, commitment and affection, but there is a space between the two that must be crossed. When our desire is kindled, our commitment (Could it be resolve?) is strong just enough, the risk to move from talking about to actually participating in prayer happens. Sometimes we know when we have moved across that space (in either direction) and sometimes it seems to just happen and you don’t know exactly how you got to this new place.

 

MaryKate Morse’s book on prayer, A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-Four Ways to Walk With God helps us, and helps me to cross that space and place between talking and praying. I need this because my prayer life has been both enriched in recent years and turned upside down. I have walked the prayer experiences described in this book. I had a unique opportunity to be an Online Facilitator for SFAD 520 Prayer course at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in the Online Learning Community (OLC) Program. I inherited this course from her (I consider it a sacred trust) to teach to first year seminary students in the OLC. There are twenty-six students this semester that will pray the Psalms and experience liturgical prayer, pray ordinary prayers for themselves, practice lectio divina, walk their neighborhoods with blessing prayer, serving prayer, creative prayer, intercessory and healing prayer, and contemplative prayer just to name a few. I will spend a great deal of time this semester talking about prayer, being immersed in the journals of students writing about their prayer experiences and it is oh so easy amidst all of this to think that I am praying.

 

Morse asserts, “through prayer we know who we truly are and who this God is who loves us.”[2] If we pulled that statement out, rolled it around in examination we would stand back to consider what she has written. To know who we truly are is not always easy. There seem to be parts of us, as we read in The Social Animal last week, where such knowledge is not always easy to bear, nor is it easily understood. If I know who I truly am will God love me? Will God love the ugliness I sense within myself? Sometimes we can feel exposed, not unlike the garden story of Adam and Eve. But something happens as we engage in prayer. Something happens that seems to shape and redefine who we are. Prayer does that. If it is true (and I do believe it is) that spiritual formation and hence our transformation come forth as a call to be conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others[3] then prayer is not a solitary act, but becomes part of who we are.

 

We are often encouraged to be the answer to our prayers. Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote a book with those words in the title.[4] They are right; we do become the answers to our prayers as we are transformed in prayer. The challenge and opportunity MaryKate presents is for us to re-learn how to experience God in prayer. We are to “love the world as God loves the world.”[5] Rather than lead with our agenda or action assuming God is in it, we do the work of cultivating relationship. We are learning to listen. The brilliance and gift of this book is surely the scope by which we are able to cultivate our relationship with God.

 

Certainly we are challenged, not by our lack of prayer, but our belief. “Our primary struggle is not a focus on prayer as routine but rather as belief that prayer really matters and that anyone can pray.”[6] At first you want to exclaim, “What? Really?” But then I realize (and maybe you to do) it is true. Listening carefully to people talking about prayer and their prayer lives I realize we lack confidence in prayer. Morse’s questions, “Is it worth it?” and “Can I do it?” sidestep and reorient.[7] Recognizing and helping others to understand the relationship of motivation and ability is actually disarming, just as it might hold the potential for disturbing the status quo. These questions have the potential to foster desire.

 

This book is my companion this semester, but I think I would be remiss if I did not affirm the theology present in the book. The chapters gather round the person of the Trinity. We are not only cultivating a relationship with God in these prayer experiences, we are learning about whom God is and the dynamic roles and character of God. “Prayer gives us access to the breadth of God’s sovereignty over all things and God’s presence in all things.”[8]

 

I confess I like routine, when my routine is off my inner life is off. What I have taken away and what I take with me is the gift these prayer experiences provide. By participating in prayer and in a variety of prayer I believe I am more open toward God, to myself and to others. I have come to realize that I pray more now than I did in former times of extended prayer. I am discovering an orientation taking place within me. That surely does not mean I have arrived in prayer (I don’t know that in our human years we ever will!). I struggle at times with my own belief. I am okay with that. There are at least twenty-four ways to walk with God.

            [1] MaryKate Morse, A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-Fours Ways to Walk With God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Robert Mulholland,

[4] Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Beocming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008).

            [5] Morse, 15.

[6] Ibid., 17.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 18.

About the Author

mm

Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

8 responses to “Walking Across The In Between”

  1. mm Deve Persad says:

    Carol, thanks for sharing your on-going journey with prayer, and with the material in this book. I appreciate your willingness to grow in your relationship with the Lord and desire to pass that onto others. You said, “Listening carefully to people talking about prayer and their prayer lives I realize we lack confidence in prayer.” – We know we ought to pray, we know to whom we should pray and yet we lack confidence. I wonder, through your years in teaching, are there some common reasons behind this lack of confidence?

    • Deve… I am relatively new to teaching, but I think one of the reasons we lack confidence is that we are often focused on outcomes. Are our prayers answered? Does what we prayed for really come about? I think there is a gap in what we have been taught is prayer and what lies within prayer. We yearn to hear God’s voice and to experience God’s presence. In some ways I think we are conditioned within the contemporary worship experience to “feel” God and maybe we haven’t really or we think that everytime we pray we can replicate God’s presence. There is so much mystery in prayer. 🙂

  2. Carol,

    Thanks for sharing here.

    Wow! Teaching a class on prayer would be a frightening endeavor for me. I probably wouldn’t do it. I admire your courage!

    Prayer has been an elusive practice for me. On the one hand, I pray all the time. But these are little prayers, mostly either telling God I’m sorry or asking Him for wisdom. They are more like text messages than like letters. They are brief and they are frequent because I sin regularly and and constantly in need of wisdom. What does God think of these kinds of prayers? I’m not really sure. But they will continue as long as I am human.

    I miss deep times of prayer. There are many reasons for my lack of prayer through the years that I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say that I have been impacted by Pharisees over the years. They pray because they are “holier than others” and this bothers me deeply. Unfortunately, since I did not want to be a legalist, I sometimes quit praying — not exactly a brilliant reaction. However, as the years have unfolded, I have grown in my understanding of what prayer is. Prayer can be a very diverse practice. This knowledge has helped me to prayer more honestly, more frequently.

    Finally, I want to be a man of prayer. I don’t think there is any spiritual discipline that is more important. Perhaps MaryKate’s book will help this desire to become a reality.

    • Bill…
      I am so glad MaryKate’s book is an encouragement to you. It is so freeing to know there are different ways to pray and they are all prayer. (This is especially significant for me, because I was a very good legalist). God’s grace to you Bill … I think you are a man of prayer (perhaps more than your realize) and that your prayers offered are incense.

  3. Michael Badriaki says:

    Carol, thank you for the thoughtful blog. I enjoyed reading about your experience as you teach about prayer. It is a very important subject and indeed necessary for all people, especially for people who are interested in vocational ecclesiastical work. I believe that it is beautiful when people experience the freedom to pray in ways that make it easy for them to pray. As you put it, “by participating in prayer and in a variety of prayer I believe I am more open toward God, to myself and to others. I have come to realize that I pray more now than I did in former times of extended prayer.”

    Thank you

    Michael

  4. mm Julie Dodge says:

    I was interested to read your post on this book, Carol, and what you wrote re-affirmed my interest. I love this quote that you included: “Our primary struggle is not a focus on prayer as routine but rather as belief that prayer really matters and that anyone can pray.” So often when I have traveled this truth has been highlighted. In other places – often in developing countries – when people ask for prayer, they expect healing and answers and, well, miracles. Yet here in the good ol’ U.S. of A, we figure that if God wants to, or if it’s not too much trouble, or if I don’t figure it out myself, or… maybe He might consider making us feel like He heard. We don’t expect that it mattered except that we were obedient. So sad. Prayer really does transform us.

    Unlike you, I am not a creature of habit and routines can feel restrictive. I never really appreciated liturgical prayers, and they are still a challenge for me, but as an adult and hopefully more mature believer, I have also found that the attitude of my heart is what really matters. This has opened me up to more structured models. I found MaryKate’s book offered new ideas to infuse creativity into my prayers and that was encouraging to me.

    Peace to you as you TEACH this practice. What a weighty responsibility. I will be praying for you. Really.

  5. Julie …
    Thank you. I appreciate your prayers.
    You wrote, “I have also found that the attitude of my heart is what really matters.” That’s really where it begins isn’t it? As MaryKate mentioned in “Community Prayer” – the avodah, the service of the heart.”
    May you be nourished and renewed as you step into further avenues of creativity. Prayers for renewed strength as well.

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