Last Fall, I received a gift comprising several gifts: I attended the Pray. Reach. Challenge. conference at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville. I went with my dear friend danae and was blown away by how powerful just a 24 hour conference could be. The three key-note sessions (watch two of them here), the break-out sessions (especially those led by Simon Mbevi), and just the overall sense of extreme hospitality were tremendous and inspiring gifts. Even the pre-conference, “church work” sessions (we attended ones about welcoming ministries and the inner-workings of their church Communication Department [wowzer!]) were inspiring to me in my work at church. It was all just incredible. The only thing I didn’t like was that Jeffrey wasn’t there to experience it with me.
I came back from PRC fired up about a lot of things, but mostly about prayer. I’ve never been a regular pray-er. Sure, when it’s my turn to pray out loud in a class or some other group setting, I certainly am able to pray. It’s not even just about saying the “right words” for me in those situations. I really am (most of the time) able to turn off my head and speak from my heart. I’m often surprised about where the Spirit leads me during those types of prayers. But, no matter how faithful God is in helping me pray with others and how clearly I can feel Him leading me in prayer, I’ve never really translated that over to my personal walk with God. In fact, it’s hard for me to even type “personal walk with God” because sometimes I feel like I don’t have one.
I have a very public walk with God, to be sure. Even before I began working at my church, I’ve always been rather involved in serving with the Body of Christ. I have a lot of public gifts – leadership, administration, teaching – and I do try to use them for God because I know (head-know… and maybe a little heart-know) that He’s given these gifts to me to use for His glory and to further His kingdom. Public walk? I’ve got that. But private walk? Umm…
I’m terrible at making time for God with no one else around. I’m terrible about any of the private, personal disciplines. Most of the time, honestly, I don’t even think about the fact that I’m missing out on a personal walk with God. I’m too busy with my public walk. That public walk is really not for show – I don’t feel like I’m faking anything, that’s just where I feel more comfortable. (Although I do think that a lot of people see my public gifts and assume they come from a place of private devotion and having-it-all-together-ness that really doesn’t exist.)
But lately, I’ve been feeling it, feeling how much I’m missing out on personally. I’m not grounded, and I know it. I need more prayer. More quiet. More secret time with God. I’m starting to feel how lost I am without it. I’m also starting to clearly see how lost I am without it. In fact, I took a couple of discipleship assessment inventories recently for research for a project I’m working on here at church and, not surprisingly, I’m weakest in the quiet things: prayer, solitude, and study. It’s just pretty plain – I need to take a step back from my focus on my public walk to focus on my personal walk. All my roles – wife, mother, employee, teacher, friend – are suffering because I’m neglecting my primary role of a child of God.
I’ve been (a bit obsessively) checking the Pray. Reach. Challenge. site for months, waiting for it to switch from “2013” to “2014.” I felt like I needed a re-charge, a re-start, some kind of impetus to drive me. I kept trying to self-start to incorporate prayer into my life, but I felt lost about where to even begin. My lack of personal walk felt/feels like an insurmountable wall. I wanted a catalyst, a push, a mountain top. So, I checked the site. It never switched. Since the conference was in mid-October last year, a few weeks ago I started to fear that it wasn’t going to be happening this year, so I contacted Southeast directly. Their response? They’re taking a year off from offering the PRC Conference to pray and refocus on what the conference is intended to be, and how God wants to use it; they’ll likely be back in 2015. I have to respect and appreciate that. I can be sulky and disappointed about it, but I have to respect and appreciate that. So, I’ve been pretty bummed. I didn’t know it, but I think my heart was really praying for another opportunity like PRC – a break, a retreat, a re-set, a kick-in the pants (or a 2×4, as my friend Mindy would say). I didn’t know it, but my spirit was praying. I know that may sound weird, but hang with me.
For about a year now, I’ve been following Brian Zahnd on Facebook and Twitter. His online writing, sermons, and books (Beauty Will Save the World and Farewell to Mars) are challenging and inspiring to me. His words ring true in my understanding of who God is, who God loves, and how God loves. Yesterday, I was moping over the absence of the PRC Conference this fall and about just how awful at prayer and solitude I really am. I got on Facebook to post about the See You At the Pole event our church was participating in with our partner school, Glen Acres Elementary (it was this morning, and it was cool) and I happened to see an update from Brian about the fact that his prayer school (which he normally offers once-a-week over the course of five weeks) was being offered as a two-day conference in mid-October and that spots were filling up fast, so you better register today.
Let’s see if you caught all that: I was moping about the lack of a mid-October conference that had previously inspired me in prayer and my lack of prayerfulness while I was posting about a prayer event when I saw a post about a mid-October prayer school. That, ladies and gentlemen, was God (rather cleverly) answering a prayer that I didn’t even know I was praying.
You probably think I shouted for joy, but you’re wrong. I immediately thought, “It’ll be too expensive” and moved on. I waited about half an hour and then curiosity got the better of me; I had to check it out. It cost – wait for iiiiiittttt – $20. So then I shouted for joy, right?
Nope. I immediately thought, “There’s no way that could work. I’d have to drive to Missouri and Jeffrey would have to stay with Paige and that’s just too much driving and too much inconvenience and it just won’t work.” I waited a few more minutes and then my desire to go/grow/mope got the better of me: I texted Jeffrey.
“So there’s a prayer school in St. Joseph Missouri on October 17 & 18 that only costs $20 and I want to go. I wish it could work.” I might as well have put a sad face after it, because it really was a “womp-womp” text about how bummed I was that that could never work.
“OK. I don’t care if you want to go.”
“Really you don’t care?! Really?!”
“Oh, goose season opens that weekend in the north zone. I suppose it doesn’t make that much difference though. I don’t mind staying at home by myself (with Paige) if that’s what you’re worried about… Why wouldn’t I support this? I can’t hear me saying, ‘No, you can’t go learn about prayer.'”
Cut to: me registering for the prayer school. (!) (Side note, why isn’t the interrobang real?! It’s so useful!)
THAT’s when I got a little giddy. That’s when I saw that God was answering my prayer I didn’t know I was praying. That’s when I realized that my moping was really crying out for God to help me with prayer, with solitude. That’s when I realized that instead of moping, I should have been praying – about my disappointment, about how I felt ungrounded, about how I needed help to pray, not to mention help in learning how to pray.
Since God doesn’t do things half-way (dayenu!), He still answering those mopey prayers today. I was cleaning up some files on my work computer when I came across a document that I had totally forgotten about titled – wait for iiiiittttt – “Spiritual Disciplines – Prayer.pages” (just had to throw the file extension in there because, you know, I’m a Mac person). I had totally forgotten that after I got back from PRC last year and I was so fired up about prayer, Gilbert had asked me to teach one (it turned into two…) Wednesday night(s) in our Spiritual Disciplines class about prayer. It should be said – even then I didn’t consider myself a prayer warrior/expert/authority, but I was excited to share what I’d been learning, praying, and thinking about. I was so excited, that the document ended up being four pages long (hence the two weeks…).
I re-read the document before I moved it to a different file this morning and I was like, “Oh wow. This is helpful stuff. Good stuff. Challenging stuff. Practical stuff. Stuff. I. Didn’t. Do.” But (by the grace of God) instead of resorting to my normal shame spiral about how terrible I am about following-through with things in my personal walk with God, I saw how God was at work in me coming across this file, nearly a year later, when I need it.
So, in an effort to not wait until prayer school to think about and practice prayer (and to keep myself grounded in the knowledge that it doesn’t matter how many prayer schools I go to, none of them would ever “fix” my prayer life and I need to just ask God to help me pray and start praying), I’m going to share here the information I compiled about prayer in that document in five parts: (1) Why Pray?, (2) What Do We (Really) Believe About Prayer?, (3) Prayer is Learned Behavior, (4) Practice Tips, and (5) For What Should We Pray?
I (obviously) still don’t think I’m an expert on prayer and I still don’t think I was an expert on prayer when I wrote what I’ll share over the next few days. What I’m going to be sharing with you is aggregated information from people who are serious pray-ers, information arranged in what is (hopefully) a helpful and condensed way that will 1) help me to stop making excuses like “I’m too busy” and “I’m just not good at it” when it comes to prayer now instead of waiting, 2) help anyone who reads this to think more about practicing prayer, and 3) hopefully even generate some discussion so that we can learn from each other about prayer.
So, if there are any eyes besides my own (still – I recognize that I write beyond the normal 200-300 word attention span of the average internet user) reading this, I hope that you can be encouraged by this and the forthcoming posts on prayer. Encouraged that – if you don’t have it all together – there’s someone else who doesn’t, either (even if it looks that way). Encouraged to (start to) pray (more). Encouraged to grow.
What about you? Do you have a (real) public walk but struggle privately? Vice versa? What spiritual practice are you struggling with? Anything you’re waiting to start until you “get it all together?” And (going out on a limb here – gulp!), do you have anything for which I can pray (keeping in mind that I’m not an expert)?