Sunday, November 28, 2010

Praying through chaos

Prayer is the most important thing I/we do. It is also the thing I feel least skillful at doing. These reflections are in part a response to Johan Maurer’s recent blogs on the topic (“Experimenting with prayer” and “More on prayer”). I write as a fellow-struggler in prayer, not an expert (such a nasty little word!), and I invite others to share their insights and struggles, because this is so important.

I write at a time in which I find myself in the middle of more crisis situations that is reasonable for one person to bear. And so I find myself throughout the day praying the Jesus Prayer in its briefest form, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy!” (Mercy on me, on whomever I am praying for at the moment, on different situations, and so on.)

Last Sunday (a week ago now) in unprogrammed worship, I got some insight on how to expand this cry to God. The centering Scripture for our worship was Psalm 136, that ancient liturgical prayer with its repeated refrain, “His mercies never cease.” So all this past week, to my cries for mercy I have added the affirmations of the psalmist. And, while I still sense the weight of the burdens I bear, a small and hopeful lightness has come into my prayers.

As I pray over impossible situations, I often find myself meditating on that mysterious image of creation in the first few verses of Genesis—the Spirit of God hovering over the chaos and darkness, waiting for God to say, “Let there be light.” I ask for the same Spirit to lovingly hover over whatever chaos I am holding up to him. I imagine the Spirit hovering over specific people and situations. I ask him to hover over Pakistan and Afghanistan. I ask him to hover over me.

Most of all, I pray the Lord’s Prayer, understanding that at its heart is the cry for the kingdom of God to be made manifest in the specific circumstances of life. It is asking that the future fullness of the kingdom come into the chaos and confusion of this present moment. I barely understand what I am doing as I sit in my chair praying this way. It’s audacious, almost arrogant. I’m sometimes asking for impossible miracles. And I just sit there, wearing ordinary clothes, sipping coffee, petting my cat and praying these extravagant prayers. What right do I have? Shouldn’t I at least be wearing a crash helmet? Shouldn’t I be more afraid?

Yes, probably.

I’m hesitant to write and post this. I have not been an exemplary pray-er. These past few weeks I have staggered through my prayers, sometimes sensing mostly desperation. The cry for mercy has been constant, especially when I don’t know what else to say to God.

Oh yes, there’s that other biblical prayer, straight from the mouths of the often befuddled disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Yes, Lord, please do that. Amen.


  1. Once again you've inspired, encouraged, articulated, opened, watered and nourished. Thank you.

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  3. Nancy--thank you! About the crash helmet--Hebrews 10 (especially verse 19 and onward) has just passed by in my Bible calendar, and it fits well. We have this amazing open invitation to go boldly into that most holy place. (Still, I appreciate that comment I mentioned from Douglas Steere that it's ok and natural for us to pause and collect ourselves before entering!) Again and again, I need to remind myself of the wisdom of Anthony Bloom's words:

    When we are talking with a friend, husband, wife, with people close to us, we try to talk to them honestly and with dignity. And this is how we must learn to talk with God. Only by talking with God, such as when we're asking Him about something, praying about something (although, of course, this does not exhaust all aspects of our prayer life), we must remember that we are standing before the majesty of God, before the shekinah of God.

    But not only that: we must remember that humans are not reptiles, that we stand upright in the full dignity of our humanity. We mean a lot to God. When He created us, He desired us into being. He created us by His power, not just for a life of toil and eventual judgment; He created us out of love. His call, which led us into life, was a call to be His friends forever, He calls us to become His close family, His children, sons and daughters, as close to Him as His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to become dwelling places of the Holy Spirit, to enter into close relationship with the very Deity. And if you raise the question of how God regards someone who falls into disunity with Him, the answer is so simple and so terrifying: the price of one human being in God's eyes is the life, passion, and death of His Son made flesh, Jesus Christ.

  4. Johan, I appreciate the way you hold glory, dignity and friendship with God together. Thank you. A timely reminder and one that resonates with what I've been exploring.