Saturday, February 16, 2013

Prayer Rehab

Just slightly less than two years ago I was gearing up to leave for DC to go to a conference I knew absolutely nothing about. The name––Global Prayer Gathering––and that I'd been required to sign up for it as part of the class I was taking as a precursor to spending the summer in the Middle East were about the only facts I could recall about it when I pulled my little roller suitcase down the hill from my dorm to the waiting line of vans at an ungodly hour of the morning to make the stuffy nine hour drive from little Dayton TN to the District of Columbia.

The first reason I knew nothing about it was I'd literally been too busy that semester to focus on anything happening more than a few hours in advance. It was my junior year, i.e. the year I took all the classes I had put off as long as I could but was afraid to save for senior year because I knew I might not pass them the first time. I was taking 19 credits worth of the those classes, and on top of it was recovering from a spring "break for change" trip in the Baltic that had been anything but a "break" and had just started writing for the school newspaper.

The second reason I knew nothing about it was sheer indifference. It was a conference. So what? It was about prayer? I'm sad to say that peaked my interest even less.

Coming of age in a staunchly reformed circle, I had a hard time fitting prayer into my own theological universe (or maybe it would be more accurate to say I had an easy time excluding it). If God is both omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful) and exists in all time and space at once, doesn't that make asking him to change something kind of irrelevant? I realize that misses the point of reformed theology by a wide margin, but it worked well with the somewhat grim sense of determinism I developed as an older teenager. And some unpleasant experiences I'd had over the previous years seemed to confirm my skepticism toward the whole idea.

So arriving in DC that afternoon, I described my attitude as "apprehensive." Far from deserving apprehensiveness though, GPG exposed me for the first time I could recall to an atmosphere and attitude of prayer that I found deeply attractive. Something about being with a thousand other people, who were not only passionate Christians, but also highly intelligent professionals who spent 51 weeks of the year in law offices across the globe––and then chose to spend their one week together by praying––was very compelling to me. I realized that weekend that a part of prayer can be about communion with other people. And that was the first step toward comprehending (not just knowing) that it's about communion with God's will. Not necessarily changing it (although if you believe it does that it's fine––my jury is still out) but communing with it.

Over the next summer this understanding became much salient as I was in situations––by myself, and even more often with others––where praying became more of a priority than it was in my "usual" life as an American college student. On a bus going through Jordan that July, a mentor of sorts from back at school who was visiting asked what my biggest take-away from the experience so far had been. I remember saying something like the importance of prayer in daily life (and then feeling bad that it wasn't something more dramatic, which is odd).

And then I went back to the U.S. And, astoundingly, disappointingly––and almost immediately––back to my old attitude of relative indifference toward prayer, toward communion with people (in fact I actually thought I disliked people for several months) and communion with God. This lasted till a good friend sent me a book called A Praying Life. While I honestly don't remember enjoying the book all that much, it did a lot to help refocus me on the importance of prayer, not only to the people you're praying for, but also for yourself. And I managed to pray more often for a few months after that.

And then my relative indifference happened again.

So this rather long post isn't to talk about how much prayer has changed my life, or how good I am at praying, or anything even remotely along those lines. Instead it's as much for me as anyone else. Prayer needs to change my life. And I need to be better at praying. Not because God's plan depends on it, but because I depend on it as a person who––even if I can't always see it––desperately needs communion with God, and secondarily but importantly, with other people. 

So, in conclusion, I'd like to ask for your prayer as I strive to make that very act and posture a more important part of my life. Also, if you're reading this and there's anyway I could pray for you, I would love to, and it would paradoxically help as much (the Christian faith seems to be full of paradoxes doesn't it? And I can't say I like many of them. That one I think is a good one, though.)

Also, I thought I might post a link to a "prayer resource" (names like that sound so cheesy to me for some reason) that is hosted by an organization that has a very special place in my heart, and that deals with issues and places that I generally find interesting. I will be trying to work through it for the foreseeable future. I guess I could think of it as prayer rehab.


Anonymous said...

Refreshingly honest and without pretense. I am convinced that when we begin to recognize that we don't have all the answers, then our spiritual journey can really begin. I can certainly relate to much of what you are dealing with Andrew, thanks for sharing.

Andrea Manz said...

I feel like I went through that exact back and forth between indifference and understanding before, during, and after Jordan. Great post. I remember that GPG was fantastic, for the reasons you stated and others, but honestly, a little discouraging as I saw the sheer volume of needs around the world (and really what I saw was just a drop in the bucket). Still trying to figure that part out. Is it even worth it?

ProsumerReviews said...
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Andrew said...

Thanks Frank. I know I'm certainly not the only person in this 'place,' but it's nice to hear personally from someone else who is.

Yes Andrea, GPG was overwhelming for me too... both times i went. I know a lot of people (even IJM staff) who expressed wondering if trying to do anything was worth it in light of the size of the problem. Somehow it didn't make me feel that way... I think when the problem you're solving is saving peoples lives, even one makes it worth it.

Rachel said...

Have you read Circle Maker by Mark Batterson? It changed the way I looked at prayer, and I was seeing it much the way you had.

Andrew said...

No I haven't Rachel. I will have to look it up. Thanks!