“How did I get here?”
That thought often marks the mountaintops and valleys of my life. Whether good or bad, the disbelief that crosses my mind is the same sentiment.
Recently, I’ve felt more discouraged and disgusted with my current state of being, my heart attitude and the doubts that plague my mind. I made the realization that I haven’t been trusting God – that I have been bitter, disappointed and frustrated with Him. This is a painful “How did I get here?” and I have been desperately unraveling myself to sort it out.
It began with prayer.
You see, I have seen and experienced God do absolutely mind-blowing, out-of-this-world things. I have come to a place in my life with Jesus where there is no going back; I have seen and felt and know too much to doubt.
And yet, in the same breath I do doubt.
I have also seen and experienced God say “no” to things that I believe are very noble, Christ-like and selfless. I have felt an overwhelming ache of disappointment at unmet requests. I have grieved deeply and seen more loss than I want to admit; I fear I am becoming a cynical Christian when it comes to prayer.
Just like Jesus showed us, I pray big, bold, specific prayers, fully believing that He can fulfill them. Then moments later I doubt if He really cares to listen.
I tell Him that I want to follow Him, wherever He leads me and when push-comes-to-shove I find myself frozen in fear, not wanting to go where He has led me.
I desire His will and plans for my life, yet I start planning without Him by my side.
I find myself at an impasse: where my flesh and spirit meet, where the war between unseen forces wages and where the mettle of my faith is tested.
And I fail miserably.
Like a pathetic toddler, I throw my own tantrums – whining when God doesn’t say “yes” to my prayers, stomping my feet in frustration at my incompetence and turning my back on Him when He gently, lovingly disciplines. I am selfish, self-centered and near-sighted.
Dejected, I throw my hands up in feigned surrender saying, “What’s the use?! You’re the one in control anyway, why do I even bother?”
So, what is the point of praying? Since God isn’t a genie nor is prayer a cosmic slot machine, what the heck am I doing spending all of this time and energy praying?!
God, in His unending kindness, has continually led me back to this passage, reminding me that He commands prayer:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thess 5:16-18
And not only is it God’s will for us to pray, but also for prayer to be surrounded by rejoicing and giving thanks always.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Phil 4:4-7
Regardless of the outcome, God desires that I rest in His shalom. Prayer has more to do with me trusting Him and delighting myself in Him than it does in achieving my desired outcome.
These wise words from Henri Nouwen have cut deep to my heart and pointed me back to Jesus during my confusion and frustration with prayer:
To pray is to desire to know more fully the truth that sets us free (Jn 8:32). Prayer uncovers the hidden motives and unacknowledged wounds that shape our relationships. Prayer allows us to see ourselves and others as God sees us. Prayer is radical because it uncovers the deepest roots of our identity in God.
In prayer we seek god’s voice and allow God’s word to penetrate our fear and resistance so that we can begin to hear what God wants us to know. And what God wants us to know is that before we think or do or accomplish anything… the deepest truth of our human identity is this: ‘You are my beloved … with you I am well pleased’ (Lk 3:22)