Already Praying

Already Praying

The life of prayer can be intimidating, but it’s not meant to be. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus speaks these words to those he knows have been burdened by religion. Faith has been made a heavy burden, and he wants us to know how light and easy a thing it is to approach him. And while we’re trying to hear Jesus say this, prayer can still intimidate us. One reason for this is that prayer is not always as rewarding as we feel it should be. Sometimes prayer offers answers to our questions, or a special feeling of closeness to God, or peace that dispels anger and bitterness. But eventually, there are dry spells. The answers don’t come and God doesn’t feel any closer than before. We may be tempted to ask, “What am I doing wrong?”

Like the newly liberated Israelites in Exodus and Numbers who experience the dryness of the wilderness immediately afterexperiencing the joy of rescue, we may wonder why God would claim us and save us just to make us wander through seasons of spiritual dryness, seasons of prayer devoid of excitement and flavor. Perhaps the answer is, at least in part, that the wilderness is better than the alternative. The alternative is that God is somehow obligated to attend to us every single time we feel like calling on him, like some butler whose job is to respond every time we ring a bell at him. When prayer dries up, we may ask, “What am I doing wrong?” But the wilderness is more likely a sign that we’re doing something right. Any marriage, friendship or other relationship must traverse the wilderness sooner or later. Can the marriage survive the dry spells, the seasons of life without much excitement or gratification? God drops us in the desert because he knows we can handle it. He’s got enough faith in us to keep going.

In Romans 8, when Paul discusses the future glory that awaits not only believers, but all of creation, he acknowledges that prayer plays a central role in this eager waiting. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Reasons to not pray can pile up on us. And when prayer becomes too difficult, too daunting, there is a sigh, a groan, a huff. Don’t overlook that huff, says Paul! That small burst of air that just escaped your body is nothing less than the Holy Spirit pushing the air out of your lungs as an act of prayer. A sigh is simply a prayer from God, to God, through us. And God doesn’t seem to care that it’s inarticulate. God seems to be saying, “Just give a voice to your exhaustion and discouragement. Just push a little air out of your lungs, and it will be music to my ears.”

Prayer is as natural a part of us as breathing, as close to us as the air in our lungs. So let us not be intimidated by prayer. And let us become more and more aware of the prayers our lungs were already praying.


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