And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray. . . Luke 11:1
My life in Sierra Leone has taught me much about prayer. Here, I will share with you some morning musings on prayer taken from my journal, written Tuesday, June 20, 2012.
I just had to laugh to myself, “Maybe I should write a book about praying in spite of distractions!” Sitting on the veranda, while writing in my journal, several converging thoughts on prayer came together and tumbled out on my page.
I truly have no quiet prayer place. At all. Anywhere. Ever. Yet, this morning, my prayer time was so richly and abundantly blessed. The Lord graciously stooped to take knowledge of me in my noisy little corner of His glorious creation. And I wouldn’t trade my noisy place for a mansion of quiet rooms.
With distractions abounding, I have learned how to go through the day in an on-going, heart-attitude of prayer, though I may never, on any given day, assume what we may think of as a traditional posture of prayer. Today was a luxury as I grabbed some time alone on the veranda, amid the clamor of our stirring, early-morning town. Sometimes it’s in the bedroom for an afternoon rest. Sometimes it’s a few scant minutes before the 04:45 morning call to prayer is spewed over the loud speakers of two mosques. I have learned what it means to pray without ceasing. Not just as to mean perseverance, or not giving up in a specific prayer, but also to stay in a prayer attitude which is continuous throughout the day. Deep, dedicated, heartfelt prayer does not have to cease when I step out of my “prayer closet”. This closeness throughout my busy day can be intense.
One of my instructors in prayer has been Margaret, although she is quite unaware of just how much she teaches me. It is simply the Lord using her very presence in my life as a foil against which to set Himself, revealing deep truths about my relationship with Him. Truths I would otherwise not learn.
Last evening, Margaret came up to see me. As I saw her approaching, I must confess, my heart sunk a bit. I know her; she never comes except she wants something from me. Usually she hangs around for a while first; seldom does she come straight to her request. She thinks I don’t know what she’s doing. So I go along with her, trying to enjoy what little personal time she will give me. For certain I don’t ask her why she came, but rather, I feign ignorance allowing her take her time. As I am waiting, I sometimes show her new things I’m doing in the garden; new vegetables, and other things that are unfamiliar to her, to help her learn and grow. Sometimes I offer her something to eat. Other times she’s sullen and silent, rebuffing my attempts to draw the problem out of her. Or perhaps she’s bright and cheery, and just chatters away about her day while I simply listen. All the while, however, I know she’s feeling me out, waiting for the right time to ask for something.
Oh how I would like her to come simply because she wants to be with me, not because she always wants something from me. I certainly don’t want Margaret to be afraid to ask things of me, and I enjoy being able to do things for her, but I’d like there to be more to the friendship. I would like a true relationship with her.
As I meditated on these thoughts about Margaret, I suddenly saw myself, “Wow! How often do I treat God like this?” The question stung! Don’t get me wrong, I know He wants us to ask things of Him, and oh, how He delights in giving to His children. But I had to deeply ponder these thoughts. Do I cause God’s heart to sink a little when He sees me coming? Or do I want a true relationship regardless of things done and provided. Do I just rush off after my requests are made? Am I sullen and withdrawn as my Lord tries to draw close to me? Do I feel hurt when He answers other than I would like? Do I share with Him the joys of my days, or am I only there to ask for something?
Just as I would like Margaret to come simply to be with me, to cultivate a relationship with me, how much more would my Redeemer delight in my coming to Him solely for who He is and not always for what I think He might do for me?
The lessons I have learned in Sierra Leone, and especially those taught by Margaret, are rich and deeply personal, and while this one hurt a bit, as I examined my heart motives in my relationship with the Lord, I was grateful that in the end I could sincerely say, that I do simply want God for who He is. Yes, He is enough.
To help you understand, I will share with you the impetus for this journal entry.
I had been reading a small devotional book on prayer. Although I enjoyed it, it was definitely directed at to American audience. The man who wrote it used to be a chaplain for a pro football team, and is now the pastor of a large ecumenical church somewhere. In the book he talks of how to create your own private space for prayer. No noise. No distractions. No visitors. Some scripture plaques on the wall. He also suggests the use of a few little props to remind yourself of different attributes of God’s nature. For example, he keeps a shepherd’s crook in his prayer room to remind himself of Jesus as our Great Shepherd. Realizing how completely impossible this was for me, I laughed. That’s where my journal takes up the story. I am infinitely grateful that the quality of my prayer life isn’t dependent upon the setting in which I pray!