Thursday, July 3, 2014

Prayer Funks are Okay

            Have you ever gone through times when you don’t feel like you know how to pray or like you just can’t pray well?  I’m in one of those times right now.  For a while now, actually.  Every time I open my mouth to pray, all I can say is, “Lord . . . (sigh) . . . Oh, Lord!?!”
            Of course, I do pray about concerns that I have, usually a quick, “Lord, help me with this concern . . . grant me wisdom.”  But then, when I begin to think about the inner ache for I-don’t-even-know-what and about how I feel so empty inside and about why God feels so far away right now, I fall silent before Him and all I can say is “Oh, Lord.”   
            I’m deep in a “prayer funk” right now, feeling like I don’t even know what to say and like all my prayers fail anyway.  In fact, I prayed the other day for my husband to do well at his job.  And I normally pray this for him, but it was the first time that I really felt a deep conviction about it.  And when he called home later, he was upset and told me that he messed up at something.  The first time in a long time.  And I thought, “I just prayed against that this morning and look what happened.”
            I’m not saying that God deliberately did the opposite of what I asked, but something is definitely going on in my life in regards to spiritual warfare.  God’s been silent, even though I actively reach out for Him.  My prayers bounce off the ceiling.  I’m feeling attacked in so many emotional ways.  And it’s been going on for years.  And I’m tired.
            I’m desperate to hear from God, to feel His presence flowing fresh over me.  There have been little flashes of this lately, such as granting me peace about my fears of failing my kids and helping me be content with my undone, messy life and with loneliness.  But for a long time He’s generally been very quiet.  And I struggle with it, wondering what I’m doing wrong.  I’m aching to truly understand prayer, to feel more alive, to feel like my prayers are making a difference.  But everything feels so dry right now.  And the whole “prayer funk” was really bothering me until I came across a Bible passage which confirms something I’ve been feeling for a while.
            Ecclesiastes 5:2: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”
            For a while now, I’ve been feeling like my prayers are just words, just babbling.  Which is why it’s been hard to pray.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that there are definitely times for long, extended prayers, for pouring out our hearts for an hour or more.  And I feel that it’s very important to talk with God all day about everything.  And that’s how my days usually are.  I pray in the morning during my quiet time with God.  But then all day long, I talk with Him, sending up thanks and petitions, telling Him about my concerns and what’s bothering or confusing me, etc.  I talk to Him the way I would to a friend if I was wearing a hands-free phone all day. 
            But lately, it feels so hollow.  And I feel like I can’t ask for things.  And I think it’s that I need to stop striving and to simply be silent.  I need to stop talking so much and to simply sit still before the Lord.  I need to stop “doing” for Him and to start “being” with Him. 
            You know, I was listening to a story about someone who set aside a whole weekend to pray to God.  And he said that he was able to pray for a couple hours before he had nothing else to say.  And he was discouraged and felt like a failure because he couldn’t pray for two days.  The advice he was given was to bring some friends with him so he could pray with others, because they could help inspire each other to keep talking to God.
            But I had a different answer in mind.  If I had the chance, I would have told him that prayer is about talking, of course, but it’s not all about the talking.  It’s also about listening and meditating on God.  It’s about enjoying and resting in His presence.  It’s about tuning into the quiet instead of fighting it, and about letting God speak through it.  It’s about being open to whatever He may want to tell you. 
            Sometimes, it’s about not talking and not trying, and instead it’s about simply being quiet before the Lord, about waiting for Him to move in His time instead of feeling like it’s our responsibility to force something.  And this is what, I think, has been behind my faltering prayers where I can’t seem to get past “Oh, Lord!?!”
            And so after receiving confirmation with the Ecclesiastes passage, I’m going to try something.  I’m going to shut up and listen more.  I’m going to take the pressure off of myself to “make something happen” with my prayers.  I’m going to not talk just for the sake of talking.  I’m going to be quiet.  I’m going to rest in His presence, even if He feels far away and silent right now. 
            There’s something brewing there, I know.  Something that I can only learn in the silence.  And when I keep talking and talking, and when I feel discouraged because prayer “isn’t working,” I miss out on the lessons that only come in the silence and in admitting that I don’t know what to say and that I don’t have power in prayer like I wish I did. 
            Of course, it doesn’t mean I enjoy these dry “desert” times.  I wish I didn’t have to go through times like this.  I wish my spiritual life was always fresh and new and vibrant and alive.  I ache for eternity, when we finally have the kind of life we are made for and when we can forever enjoy and delight in God’s presence.  And I marvel at the spiritual giants of the past who had power in prayer, who clung to God tenaciously, who understood the great deep things, and who did great things for God.  I wish I could be counted among them.  But here I am, sitting before Him in confused silence.  Impoverished.  Aching.  Tiny and weak.           
            But looking back on my spiritual journey so far, I know that extended periods of God’s silence always precede deeper spiritual growth and spiritual blessings and greater spiritual tasks and responsibilities.  And so I am not afraid of the silence anymore.  I know that these dry times are necessary parts of spiritual growth.  And I am learning to wait not in discouragement but in expectation that God will move again soon, that there is something important to be learned in all this. 
            There will be times to talk more, but for now I need to “let my words be few” and simply “be still” before the Lord.  For a time, I’m going to stop “doing” and I’m going to just “be.”  I’m going to cling to Him in faith until He moves again.  And I’m going to be okay with this prayer funk.  It’s part of the journey, and I know it won’t last forever.