As we wake up to news that extremists have killed and injured dozens of people in Paris, France, I’ve seen a million memes urging us to “pray for Paris.” It may seem difficult to know how to think or feel in the midst of criminal acts against humanity. One of the knee-jerk reactions is to ask where is God? or, How could God allow things like this to happen? There are those who will underscore their apathy toward a loving God by positioning this horrible tragedy as proof that God does not exist. We all struggle to find answers to things that have no ready, or empirical, answer. Yet at the heart of Christianity is the belief in something that cannot be proven. We can prove historically that there was a man named Jesus who lived more than two thousand years ago, but how he left this earth is a matter of faith…the belief in something that cannot be proven. And even Jesus himself did not escape this life without experiencing injustice, pain, or strife. God did not promise us a life free from strife; what God does promise is presence in the midst of it. In the 23rd Psalm, David acknowledges that he “walks through the valley of the shadow of death.” David does not stay in the valley, nor does he pitch a tent in the valley; he moves through the valley. He does not dispute the reality of the valley. He keeps moving through it. And if you are sitting on your hands wondering what you can do in times of pain and anguish, pray and pray hard. Don’t just offer up a statement like “my thoughts and prayers are with you,” get in your prayer posture and actually DO IT.
Prayer, in its simplest definition, is simply conversation with God. Considering the fact that the Almighty would even want to have conversation with us is mind-blowing in and of itself…but regrettably, many people who identify as Christians struggle with their prayer lives.
Prayer is an opportunity to spend time with the All- Holy, All-Merciful, All-Righteous, All-Wise, Eternal and Everlasting, All-Loving, Our Strength and Our Redeemer, Immanent (inherent in everything), Omnipotent (able to do all things, has unlimited power and influence), Omniscient (knows all), Transcendent (beyond the range of normal or physical human experience, surpasses the ordinary, exists apart from and is not subject to the limitations of the material world, not realizable in experience), Majestic, All-Forgiving, Comforter, Perfecter, The Truth, The All-Caring, Supreme Power, Architect of the Universe, Almighty, The Only Entity that can create something out of nothing, God. Yeah, that God wants to talk to you. So why don’t we?
Recent polls reveal that many 21st century Christians do not pray enough or consistently enough. Perhaps some think they already know how to pray and don’t need instruction in it, even though devout Jews in the ancient world who met a particular rabbi from Nazareth specifically asked to be taught how to pray; they wanted and needed instruction in prayer. For many of us, prayer is a burden, a duty, an obligation, something that is tedious. Many of us feel guilty if we don’t do it, and feel no joy at all when we do. I think a lot of us believe in God, but we don’t believe God. By that I mean that we believe that God exists, but we’re not entirely convinced God wants to be bothered with us.
Our prayer lives may feel a bit “lackluster” because many of us either lack the skills to do a few things necessary for a meaningful, enriching prayer life, or have allowed these skills to rust a bit. Here’s a quick refresher:
In order to move your prayer life from drudgery to delight, you’ve got cultivate the desire to pray. And that means work. Building a relationship always takes work. Having an effective prayer life means you have to be disciplined. It’s worth mentioning that disciple and discipline come from the same root word. In order to be anybody’s disciple, it means you live a life of discipline. It means you diligently seek to learn something from someone. You see it in martial arts movies all the time. There is a master or sensai who teaches his or her skills to a young novice, and then the trainee gets to show off those skills when they get revenge against the person who killed their master. It’s an action movie cliché sure, but it makes the point…no one gets to be Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal, or Jet Li without first sitting at the feet of someone, and exercising quite a bit of discipline. And listening for God requires some discipline. Prayer is a conversation. Think about how you have a conversation with someone: you look her or him in the eye, you listen to what she or he is saying, you wait until they have finished talking and then you talk…it’s an exchange. Prayer is an exchange with God. Prayer is not a conversation with Santa Claus: “I want, I want, Amen.” Prayer requires the work of making an appointment with God, and keeping it. Start small if you have to. Don’t say I’m going to pray for an hour every day; start with just five minutes. Take just five minutes to take part in the highest call, to seek the face of God.
I can tell you that when you live an iPhone life, learning how to quiet the mind when we are so plugged in is difficult. We live in a world where we have more distractions that ever before, and we all live like we are cardiologists…like we are on call, all of the time. Noise is coming at us from all directions. We can be and are electronically accessible 24 hours a day. To sit for any length of time without checking one’s Facebook status…well, let’s just say the struggle is real. But we must learn to shut that off in order to hear from God. And as mentioned earlier, discipline requires work. I know it is easier said than done, but it is worth the effort. Listening is a lost art, but we can recapture it. And listening for God is certainly worth a few minutes of our day.
So as our hearts go out to everyone who is hurting in Paris, we can certainly pray for them and keep in mind that there are hurting people everywhere. And I believe God is present is every act of kindness and love we can extend to others. Pray for Paris. Pray for hurting people under attack EVERYWHERE. Pray.