Don’t Stop at Quitting

Prayer is the hardest discipline I’ve ever tried to practice. It’s also the thing I do most often. Life flows from the words I pray over a friend as they struggle, healing over wounded souls, encouragement like a fountain of resolve when he has nothing left to give.

Prayer was the realization I had at sixteen years old that, since God could hear all my thoughts anyway I might as well direct them to Him. This revelation also led to a minor breakdown as I understood I would never, ever be alone with my thoughts again. In some ways conversion was a mite traumatic.

Prayer is the thing that fills the silence when I take the time to be quiet long enough for all the static to run its course and stillness can settle into my mind. It’s all the words I speak when I know the thoughts didn’t generate in my own mind. Praying in a small group with other believers is the thing I miss most about the Charismatic church. Meditative prayer is the gift my monk friends offered me when I ran to their chapel to escape the noise of the Charismatic church.

I can teach people acronyms to help them pray, or how to create lists, or use props, or follow the Lord’s Prayer, or use prayer beads and books of liturgy. There’s an incredible excitement to praying with someone in a new way for the first time. Prayers offered up for other people like incense to heaven fill me with the sense that I am indeed participating in works far greater than I can ever comprehend.

However. When it comes to praying alone, for myself or just by myself, I’ve come to a screeching halt in the past several years. Most of my private prayers swirled around a few main epicenters: depression, anxiety, relationships, finding purpose in my life, and a seeming inability to overcome a few basic lifestyle patterns regarding money and health. Sprinkled through were all sorts of prayers for situational things, but these major themes were consistently at the heart of any prayer I spoke, or wrote, or silently begged when I ran out of words.

Over time I found resolution in a few of these areas. Most significantly I came to a place of peace regarding my emotional struggles. Turns out that opened up quite a bit of space in my soul for these other areas to amplify. For several more years I struggled in prayer over my singleness, feeling purposeless, and ramming my head against broken patterns with money and health. I felt like Jacob wrestling an unknown opponent, and eventually I just wore out. I resigned myself to defeat and my invisible enemy stole away with my ability to pray. I grew tired of praying the same words All. The. Time. Over a decade I spent going in circles, and the sense of futility won me over.

The prophet Haggai spoke to a people who had likewise succumbed to the power of resignation. With songs of celebration this exiled people returned to their land with the resources and blessing to rebuild their ruined city. After some progress was made, however, neighboring nations began to attack the folks working out of fear that Israel would once again become a powerful nation. Eventually the opposition succeeded in wearing the workers down, and they shrunk back. God finally questions their indifference, showing them that the reason they have made no progress in rebuilding their nation is that they’ve neglected their single most significant structure: the Temple. The place in which God promises His presence will dwell, the place where all divisions between God and people are removed, the place where all sin is atoned. He promises that as long as the Temple remains abandoned they will never find their feet again as a people, but that if they devote themselves to restoring the Temple He will be true to their ancient covenant and bless them beyond measure.

So the work begins again in earnest, and soon a Temple is complete. Yet Nehemiah (a storyteller who narrates the events as Haggai prophecies them) tells us that the folks old enough to remember the Temple before it was destroyed wept loudly at this seeming shadow of past glory. We can know something is important even though it looks puny compared to a past version. We can grieve the anemic state of something even as we are grateful we have it at all.

Through Haggai God tells the people: “‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong…the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house…and in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord” (Haggai 2:3, 9).

I tired of hearing myself say the same words over and over again. Resignation gave way to lethargy, and I stopped investing in the temple. I stopped investing in prayer. But today, if I will take up the work of rebuilding that space within myself once again, give myself over to the work of establishing this temple in prayer, maybe greater glory is yet to come. Maybe even the broken, worn, tired places will become portals for goodness and life and beauty that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Could this be the best possible meaning of “breakthrough?”

Credit: Jerzy Kociatkiewicz on Flickr via Creative Commons

Credit: Jerzy Kociatkiewicz on Flickr via Creative Commons

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2 Comments

  1. October 18, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Well said Mandy. I can sooo relate…All. The. Time…Thank you for the encouragement. GOD bless You!


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