Our church is in the middle of our second week of a bible study on prayer. So far, it has been really great! We've been looking at some models of prayer from the Bible. It's made me think about some things in my own prayer life.
In her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor discusses the fact that she is "a failure at prayer". That's a relief! Not that I wish my own weaknesses on anyone, but if someone as thoughtful and well esteemed as she can see herself in that light than at the very least I'm in very good company. I have done as much as I can think of to build a disciplined routine of prayer into my life. All those efforts have been miserable failures, mostly because my life has little disciplined routine to begin with. I've tried devotionals, praying the hours, online tools... all of which end up becoming an after thought after about a couple of weeks at best. I tend to embrace the chaos and spontaneity of my life, which makes strict discipline a bit of a challenge.
I'm convicted when I read the story in Daniel 6. A routine f praying three times a day would feel like a lot to me without the external persecution. I suppose if I were in Daniel's shoes there wouldn't have been much of a story. There definitely seems to be a place in our lives for this kind of routine. It can give our lives order. It can refocus us on that which really matters in life. As I age, I find "routine" to be less and less of a scary word and more of a helpful tool, though one that often seems to be misplaced in my life. This is definitely one of my blind spots. However...
If Daniel 6 was the only model of prayer in the Old Testament, which is as far as we've gotten in our study thus far, then I would feel pretty awful about myself. But more often than not, prayer is situational in the Hebrew scripture. The example I gave in our study was Genesis 24. Issac's servant, desperately trying to please his master, stops at a well a prays this mind-bogglingly specific prayer for help in finding Isaac's wife. It works. This isn't a prayer he prays all the time. He most likely never prayed that prayer before nor did he need to again once it was answered. I'm pretty good at that kind of prayer. I think most of us are. It's easy to talk to God when the needs are pressing and the desired outcome is well defined. Then we don't waste words. We don't choose our words carefully. We just articulate our hearts' longings. We also looked at I Samuel 1. Hannah gets so desperate and honest before God that she bargains with Him. I've certainly been there! From a certain vantage point, it looks pretty pathetic, but she gets what she asks for. And she keeps her end of the bargain.
I don't know that any of the examples I used are model prayers. But they speak to a truth about prayer that I think gets lost. They speak to an honestly and an intensity that my own prayers sometimes seem to lack. My prayers tend to be of the generic, "God bless everybody" variety. It's only when my back is against the wall that I start getting real. I sometimes think that that's the only reason God allows me to get to the place where my back is against the wall, so that we can have honest communication.
A friend of mine told me recently that she was praying something very specific for me. I cried when I read her message because I know I don't pray that way for people. I also cried because I have been seeing the beginning of her prayer being answered in my life. It shook me because when I'm really honest with myself, I don't expect God to answer my own prayers let alone the prayers that others pray for me. Despite the fact that I have seen so much answered prayer in my life, I always assume that the well has run dry by the time that I get around to asking God something for myself. I feel awful saying that. But it's nothing compared to the utterly humbling phenomenon of God putting my life and my needs on the heart of someone else, particularly someone with whom I do not have regular contact.
I'm sure I'll have more to say on prayer as we continue through the study, but as I've gone through these past couple of weeks, I've begun to see that when I get honest with God, God gets honest with me. And the truth is that I am loved. Undisciplined and routineless though I may be, I am loved. Thanks be to God!