For the past several weeks, I’ve been writing about praying powerful prayers, which happens to be this year’s theme for our school. This past summer, the Lord taught me some valuable things about praying powerfully. Perhaps the most important thing I learned is the importance of slowing down and being still. Praying powerful prayers require us to slow down and be still.
Slowing down and being still is really, really hard for me. As one with ADD, when I sit still and quiet before the Lord, hundreds of thoughts go sprinting from my mind like bats from a cave. I’m constantly on the go, getting stuff done. I’m one of those guys who have a bias toward action. Thinking, moving, flying around? That’s me. But, being still? Quiet before the Lord? Opening my mind and heart to Him? That’s just plain scary for me. And, I know I’m not alone. In our frenetic, technology-driven culture, you don’t need ADD to have a busy mind.
I used to think my hyperactive spirit was just the way I was, the way I was made, and that God was just going to have to meet me here. I began to realize, however, that I couldn’t sit still before the Lord because I never practiced it. Even for someone like me, it was simply a discipline I hadn’t mastered, but one that, with the Holy Spirit’s help, I could. I realized my failure to master it was keeping me from being effective both at prayer and at listening to God speak. I came upon this quote from this summer that hit me right between the eyes: how much does it describe you?
One reason we have difficulty praying is that we are unable to quiet down enough to become sensitive to the movements of the Spirit…Rushing from one activity to the next, we lose touch with the Spirit…Finding ourselves anxious and worried both about the result of our work and about getting it all finished within the allotted time, we come to prayer restless and find it almost impossible to quiet our minds in a way that allows us to be sensitive to the movements of the Spirit. Since we cannot allow the Spirit to bring us to the Lord, we begin composing our own monologue to the Lord, expressing our own needs and concerns, often in a rushed and rather compulsive way. It often seems that we could be using our time more effectively by skipping prayer and finishing the work we left undone.
Prayer will remain difficult until we develop a rhythm of life that enables us to work in tune with the Spirit…If we are living in tune with the Spirit during the day, it is easy to allow the Spirit to unite us to the Lord during prayer.
Resetting the inner rhythm of our life seems to be absolutely vital, creating the space and time for the Spirit to draw us into powerful prayer with God.
I watched a short film called “Godspeed” about a young pastor who was challenged by Eugene Peterson to step into a rhythm of life that created the relational bandwidth necessary to truly draw into intimacy with God and others, so as to serve both well. He moved to Scotland and became an assistant pastor at a small parish in a rural area. He walked the parish throughout the week, engaging in conversation with his people, really knowing them, who they were, and where they came from. Through completely changing the pace of his life, he discovered Jesus was, as he called it, the “3 ½ mph God.”
Unlike life in our blistering, 120-mph world, Jesus walked around the countryside, knowing people deeply, and ministering within a small radius of his hometown. He took time to withdraw, to be alone with God, not for a rushed half-hour quiet time/monologue, but for hours, so that He could escape the press of the people and their crushing expectations, and let God love Him and tell him that He was God’s beloved, in whom He was well pleased. Operating at a much slower pace than ours, Jesus changed the world for all eternity.
This American pastor in rural Scotland discovered that He needed to slow down in order to catch up to God. What can we do in carving out the time, space, and place in our lives to be still before the Lord, in order to catch up to God? I’ve set my alarm to get up an hour earlier each day, and set aside extended time each month. I’m a little more tired, but I like who God is making me way better than I liked the more rested guy I was.
God is a loving and gracious father who deeply desires to give good things to us. He desperately wants to empower us to fulfill our calling, our work, and to love our kids and train their hearts. But, even more desperately, your Father wants you– your heart, your time- He wants your work and your love for others to be an outflow of time spent with Him, rather than an add-on.
We got a yellow lab puppy at my house this summer. We named him Bo. Bo, as all dogs, puppies, and especially Labs, loves his owner. He wants desperately to be with me. Bo doesn’t seem to care that I have anger issues, or that I’m impatient, or that I struggle with the praise and acceptance of others. He’s so quick to forgive me when I yell at him. He just wants to be with me, no matter how busy I am, he wants me to come away and play with him. He is desperate and fervent about it. God has used Bo to show me how He feels about me, and at times to convict me of the foolishness of thinking I’m too busy doing stuff for Him to be with Him.
We don’t have to choose between a contemplative life of prayer and an active life- one unleashes tremendous power and opportunity for the other. Ultimately, praying powerful prayers is about resting in the arms of my Abba and hearing Him say, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Jay Ferguson, PhD, writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.