The Oxford Concise Dictionary contains over 240,000 words. And that’s their ‘concise’ version. You would think, with all those little pearls of communication at my fingertips, I would be able to string a few of them together, in the right order, to make sense of what I’m feeling and thinking today, wouldn’t you?
Some chance. But I keep on trying.
This isn’t Biblical – it’s just a thought, and you know how unreliable my thoughts are; we talk a lot, us Christians, about God being active in our lives. Sometimes, to hear us, it’s as if we expect God to be hovering in the shadows of every scene we enter, ready to do our bidding, a celestial attentive butler. “Oh” says the God of the Universe “Luce needs a parking space by the chemist. I’ll look away from the millions who are in desperate need to sort that out for her.” Sometimes non-Christians really do think that we’re that … what’s the word… idiotic.
But praying and trusting in God, relying on him, isn’t demanding or infantile. Although I want to turn to God for every need in my life, however small, I don’t think he is conscious of my petty requests in the same way that our cognitive processes work. Rather, I believe that if I am living in Christ, and if Christ is living in me, then it’s a law of nature, of cause and consequence , outside time and space, that ‘All things work to the good for those who love the Lord.’ If I am obeying him, and living in his will, in the peace and joy of Christ, then everything that happens as a consequence of my submission is part of his will. Laid down in eternity, before I was born. He’s not moving that big posh 4×4 out of the parking space so my eight year old Volvo can clank its way in, because I can cope with or without that parking space, and maybe it’s better for me to park somewhere else anyway. A parking attendant? That’s not who he is. And the bigger things, too… he is working in them. When I move house he does more than find me the next house I want, because he knows the end of the story and so he gives me the next house or van or boat or tent that I need to get to the end of that story. I don’t know the end of the story but he does so why would I prefer my bright ideas to his? He’s working his own laws of cause and consequence to bring us to the point where we can glorify him and be fulfilled in him, not fulfilled in ourselves.
He has given us a way of life, a joyful rich way of submitting our lives to him, so that as a consequence we will always be following him, led by him, and will never lose him. I want to think of him when I drive into town, or make a phone call, or bake a cake, or decide to move house. Big or small. Always. I want to live in his will, aware of him, and depending on him, already living in eternity, being with God.
In 1 Thessalonians we’re told:
‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’
Hmmm. Pray continually? Some translations say ‘pray without ceasing’. Oh, boy, think about that… a continual conversation, word after word , an internal monologue without ceasing? Is that what this means? Really? No. I don’t think this is what this instruction means. These are the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:7
‘And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.‘
Prayer is not only words. it isn’t framed or limited by language. Sometimes it turns into words, and sometimes we need words, but prayer is a state of being. If I am in Jesus and Jesus is in me then every breath I take is a prayer, every small act is a prayer, my attitude turns from self to prayer, that parking space I wanted is filled by someone else? Good. They needed it. The house sale goes through? Thank you, God, this is a gift. The house sale doesn’t materialise? Thank you, God, I’m content to stay put. Your will, not mine.
In the Old Testament, when Israel had turned away from God to worship pagan gods in addition, turning to the true God only when the mood took them, we read in Isaiah 1:12-15
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations –
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
So, prayer is more, much more than words, than pleas and bargaining or magical thinking. We can’t fool God with words. Prayer is a way of life, a state of being, a total submission, a love affair.
How can I stop my heart from singing?