Prayer is Hard

Good morning. It is Sunday, July 5, 2015.

Today’s word of the day, from Merriam-Webster, is bunkum. Bunkum is a noun, meaning, “insincere or foolish talk : nonsense.” The origin of this word appears to be political. “Some words in our language have more colorful histories than others, but in the case of bunkum, you could almost say it was an act of Congress that brought the word into being. Back in 1820 Felix Walker, who represented Buncombe County, North Carolina, in the U.S. House of Representatives, was determined that his voice be heard on his constituents’ behalf, even though the matter up for debate was irrelevant to Walker’s district and he had little to contribute. To the exasperation of his colleagues, Walker insisted on delivering a long and wearisome “speech for Buncombe.” His persistent—if insignificant—harangue made buncombe (later respelled bunkum) a synonym for meaningless political claptrap and later for any kind of nonsense.”

Today is Bikini Day. I swear it was the only choice I had! Anyway, it marks the invention of the scandalous swimwear, in 1946, by Parisian fashion designer, Louis Reard.

We had a really nice day yesterday. After I finished my morning blog, we cooked breakfast and had a nice meal around the table (that doesn’t happen much at this house, these days). After some quick showers, we took my mother up to Half-Price Books and just shopped around for a bit. I left $5 richer than I went in, which is always a good thing. After picking up some drinks at Sonic, we headed back to the house for about an hour, then went up to where our church meets for the July 4th cookout. We had a nice time hanging out with the church family, eating hot dogs and brats (the sausage, not the kids), and playing a few games. Around 7:00, we left there to get my mother packed up so we could take her back to Mineral Wells.

We had a very pleasant drive both ways, and didn’t stay long in Mineral Wells, as it was already after 8:00 when we arrived there. We were both exhausted, so we didn’t stay up a long time after we got home. Over all, I would say it was a very pleasant day, and has been a delightful weekend, so far. I do believe Rachel and Justin are supposed to come over this afternoon, so we will need to go do our grocery shopping this morning.

On this date in 1865, The Salvation Army was founded in London. In 1937, Spam was introduced by Hormel Foods. In 1947, Larry Doby signed a contract with the Cleveland Indians, becoming the first black player in the American League. In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded “That’s All Right,” which would be his first single, and the BBC broadcast its first TV news bulletin. And in 1971, the 26th Amendment was certified by President Nixon, officially lowering the voting age to 18.

Today’s birthdays include Thomas Hooker (English Connecticut colonist), Mary Walcott (American accuser at the Salem witch trials), P.T. Barnum (American circus owner), Warren Oates (American actor), Shirley Knight (American actress), Robbie Robertson (Canadian musician, The Band), Michael Monarch (American musician, Steppenwolf), Huey Lewis (American singer), Goose Gossage (American baseball player), Bill Watterson (American cartoonist), Marc Cohn (American singer/songwriter), Claudia Wells (American actress), and Jason Wade (American musician, Lifehouse).

Marc Cohn was born on this date in 1959, making him 56 today. Here is a wonderful song of his, “Walking in Memphis.”

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.
Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.

Psalm 81:1-3

(From Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God)

“I can think of nothing great that is also easy,” says Tim Keller. In that case, he says, prayer must be “one of the hardest things in the world.” I am inclined to agree with him. Sure, in many ways, prayer is easy. How hard is it to say grace before a meal? But to really get into deep prayer with God, having all of our senses consumed by his presence . . . this is a truly difficult thing. I cannot say whether I have ever fully accomplished this. However, when we admit that this is a difficult thing, it can be encouraging, because we can be assured that we are not alone.

Keller quotes a book by a nineteenth century theologian, Austin Phelps. The book is called The Still Hour, and begins with a chapter called “Absence of God, in Prayer.” The author begins with Job 23:3, which says, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him!” Phelps is quoted as saying that, “a consciousness of the absence of God is one of the standing incidents of religious life. Even when the forms of devotion are observed conscientiously, the sense of the presence of God, as an invisible Friend, whose society is a joy, is by no means unintermittent.”

Even though we know that God is always here and never absent, I firmly believe that we would be less than honest if we said that we never experienced the feeling of God’s absence. But there are reasons for this feeling, and for the feeling of dryness in our prayer lives.

One thing we learn when we try to pray is “our spiritual emptiness.” In fact, we get quite used to being empty, to the point that we don’t truly recognize it until we begin to attempt prayer. “We don’t feel it until we begin to read what the Bible and others have said about the greatness and promise of prayer.” And while it is a crucial first step, it can be very disorienting.

What happens when our prayer lives begin to flourish? Well, we might be experiencing self-pity, or in the process of justifying anger and resentment. Then, when we begin to pray, we come face to face with the pettiness of those feelings. “All your self-justifying excuses fall to the ground in pieces.” Perhaps we come to our prayer session, feeling great anxiety. As we get into prayer, we find that we wonder what we were so worried about, maybe even laughing at ourselves, thanking God “for who he is and what he’s done. It can be that dramatic. It is the bracing clarity of a new perspective.”

Over time, the experience described in the previous paragraph can become normal. But it doesn’t start that way. At the beginning, that feeling of the absence of God, along with a feeling of desperate spiritual poverty, dominates. But we must persevere, pushing forward to that place that Packer and Nystrom call getting “through duty to delight.”

Let us not understand, though. Even when the good experiences become “normal,” there will be times of dryness and emptiness that return. But, when we persevere, “the vivid reorientation of mind, and the overall sense of God on the heart, comes more frequently and sometimes in startling ways–interspersed with times of struggle and even absence.” The pursuit will bear fruit, “because God seeks for us to worship him (John 4:23) and because prayer is so infinitely rich and wondrous.”
(pp. 24-25)

Father, how well I know that prayer is hard. So many times, I have experienced this dryness, this emptiness, sometimes right on the heals of a seemingly victorious and fruitful day of prayer. I do not believe that it is you that is inconsistent, though. I know it is me. But I also know that you will take me through periods of testing, and periods of walking through the desert, in order to make those times of closeness and fruitfulness that much more blessed. And it is the promise of those times that keeps me persevering through the struggling times. Sometimes, I know that the struggles are due to my divided heart, and for that reason, I continue to pray that you will unite my heart to fear your name. Teach me through the difficulty of prayer, knowing that “nothing great is also easy.”

I pray for this day. I lift up Christi to you, who is struggling, this morning, with pain in her legs, as well as some sickness in her stomach. I pray for relief for her. May you grant us safety and success as we go out to do our chores, in a bit. And I pray for a good visit with Rachel and Justin, this afternoon. May your presence shine down on us, whatever we find ourselves doing.

Thank you for such a wonderful times over the past couple of days. Thank you that you provide for us, so that we could do the things we do, and so that we could bring my mother to participate. I pray that all of us may get some good rest today, as we prepare for another work week, ahead.

Your grace is sufficient.

Prayer is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you different. But the joy and reward that we receive, when we struggle through the difficult times, is without comparison. Don’t give up when the dry times come; don’t give up when you don’t feel the presence of God. It may feel as though he is absent, but he is NEVER absent! Never!

Grace and peace, friends.

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