Praying to God with Time and Solitude

I started falling asleep to the tv in high school.  With the right volume and show running in the background, I could finally clear my mind and find rest.  With marriage came improvisation.  Now I sleep with earbuds and find it much more difficult to doze off.  When I do sleep, it’s not restful.

I’ve noticed my new stressful sleep is often linked to whatever I’m listening to. There is something happening psychologically when the sound is shot directly into the ear.  It’s like it’s bypassing layers of filters and getting implemented into my subconscience.  It’s become enough of an issue that I’ve tried to remove them and just fall asleep without any artificial aid.

Now I struggle with the lesser of two evils.  A chance that my favorite shows will help provoke stress induced panic attacks… or face the deafening quiet and my ever-wandering, also wakened mind?

The quiet is loud.  I hear every breath, every squeak and creak of the house.  Some nights I’d swear I could hear the cats blinking.  The heat kicks in. The bed cracks, the house settles, the ice falls in the freezer, it’s like a riotous prison!

Worse is that I have no control of my mind.  It wanders into ludicrous places leaving me captive to further pondering when I should be watching sheep jumping fences with cartoon Z’s over their heads.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Why is this so difficult?  To simply stop.  To stop being a receiver for all the world wants to feed into us?  God wants to speak to us, to feed us Godly things, but how often do we truly give Him the platform to do so?

When I was very young, before the crux of a tv to fend with, I would pray as I lay in bed and would often fall asleep talking to God.  I remember explaining to a Sunday school teacher, when learning about confession, that I was such a horrible person that I couldn’t finish talking to my Savior without falling asleep.  I felt real guilt that I didn’t finish and assumed I really let God down.

I still remember the man’s response.  “Don’t you think it pleases God that He was the last thought on your mind as you fell asleep?  Don’t you think He knows you were trying and actually communicating?  For many husbands and wives, their favorite time of day is to crawl into bed at night and talk until they fall asleep.  If anything, I would say you are doing it right.  The Bible says to pray without ceasing… and going up until the dreams kick in is pretty much following that to the letter.”

But I’ve saturated my senses with decades of noise.  I need noise to block out other noises.  The lack of sound is more audio than I can bear… or so I am deceived into believing.  How devilishly tricky!  Such a simple thing.  But look at the magnitude of what it costs.  Precious moments with the only thing worthy of my time.

The Bible speaks a bit about prayer.  It mentions solitude and private. There is a reason.  Imagine trying to take a written exam on a plane that is crashing… weird and silly, right?  Also impossible.  I think this is close to what we do when we try to fit God in over the tv, radio, tablet, computer, internet, smart phone, and any other manner of distraction we throw into our lives.  It’s simply not possible to do.  Way too many bumps, spirals, swerves… and of course the unfortunate crash at the end.

Communicating with God can happen in quick bursts, in thought, surrounding your entire day.  That shouldn’t change.  But GROWING in God, living IN Him, emblazoning His name on your life… that requires real prayer.  Biblical prayer.  Worn knees.  Teary eyes.  Devoted time.  Sincere and uninterrupted talks with time specifically included for listening.  And here is the part I think we most will cringe at if you allow your self conscience unassisted access to you true and unfiltered habits… frequency.  Is this just something you do around Christmas and Easter?  Is this more of a once a month thing?  Do you think corporate prayer covers this?

No one in history has had more justification to exempt Himself from private prayer time than Jesus.  And let me explain what I mean by that.  He was actively doing His Father’s will.  He was followed by thousands and healing them and saving them.  He was DOING the task at hand (in mid-sacrifice mode). Nothing was more criticle to US than seeing this man.  So it might be excusable for Him to say, ‘do as I say and not as I do… I’m here for you, once I’m gone, you should pray better’.  And yet, with such a massive and important, and time bound mission, He still separated Himself and prayed (Just like He wants us to do).  It wasn’t that we weren’t worth His time… it’s because we were worth His prayers.

So let’s use this as an example of how frequently we should specifically set aside private time to pray and listen to God.  To follow scripture and to put it simply, this should be the most important thing we do in our lives.  And… the closer we want to be to God, the more we need to do this.  It almost sounds like a paradox, but it isn’t.  The more stressed we are, the more we need to pray.  The busier we get, the more time we need to set aside to pray.  The more angry, the more sad, the louder life gets… prayer isn’t meant to be another bullet point on the list… it’s what makes the list doable.

Nothing makes me happier than when people stop what they are doing to pray over something.  I had lunch with an amazing friend the other day and he did this.  He could have asked me to pray later and I would have agreed and maybe even remembered to. But instead, He put God where He belongs.  Front and center. It’s important.  Prayer is important.  And when you see prayer and use prayer as a gift from God, then the scripture to pray without ceasing is no longer a command we follow… it’s who we are.  We belong to Christ and we pray forever!  We don’t fit God into our schedule… we live out God’s schedule.

One Question: Pass / Fail

Lets call this an exercise.  It might sound like I’m getting political, but I promise it’ll barely scrape the surface before I get back on topic.  And the topic is a single question test to help you understand where you stand spiritually.  It’s not meant as anything other than a personal self assessment in one key area of faith.

Jesus, our intercessor, is often seen as standing at the gates of Heaven.  He will, as promised, vouch for those who have received His gift of salvation.  The Bible calls it, among other things, the separation of grains from weeds.

Before we get going, I’d like to ask you to think of 2 names.  See, I’m not even going to mention them.  These 2 figures have been in political news non stop for months and likely won’t be left out of the news for the foreseeable future.  Most likely one of the two names brings up feelings of unhappiness.  In many people, the feelings are much stronger.  If I’m to believe social media, both of these people are absolutely hated by the opposing party.  If you aren’t wrapped up in the political turmoil then pick your current enemy number 1.

Some of us, get so agitated at the mere mention of the name, we probably already forgot what we are doing.  So all I want you to do is to think about those 2 people for a minute.  Got a good image?  All set on their character, beliefs, motives, and class?  Good.

Now, lets pretend for a moment that Jesus pulls you aside at the gates of Heaven.  He has a task for you.  Those 2 people are right behind you in line.  In your ear, He whispers the following:

I have already paid for their sins.  On the cross I endured absence from my Father while I took on the whole burden of all sin.  I was sacrificed and now is the time to deem people entrance or deny, forever, access to the Father.  I know how horrible time away from God is and it forced me to cry out in anguish for all to hear.  To be away from God is to be forsaken.  Lost.  Alone.  Horribly and wretchedly doomed.  I will not share their secrets or their sins, nor their accomplishments.  You only have the knowledge you have brought into death.  What sentence would you pass on to these 2 people?  Should they be allowed to praise God forever, or weep for eternity?  Should I forsake them?

And thus begins your test.  Knowing only what social media or biased media has provided you, are you ready to condemn others to an eternity of Hell?  Are your sins lesser?  Is God unable or incapable of forgiving?

I’ll remind you of a single scripture before you are asked to answer.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:31-32

Can you do it?  Can you pass judgement on these people?  Can your conscience bear the weight of eternal consequences?  I praise God every day that I am not a judge (in earthly or heavenly matters).  Passing out penalty is not something I envy.  Although it is much needed, I could not be the one to decide when a price should be paid.  Thankfully, the Bible makes it easy.  Forgive debts.  Forgive crimes against us.  Forgive each other.

This doesn’t mean to let people ruin the world with chaos.  This means that we are free from the burden of consequences when we forgive those who wrong us.  This affectively makes it “their” problem.  To not forgive is to hold on.  Picture Ebenezer Scrooge hoarding receipts, demanding payments, double checking the locks on all of his money…  Its a task to hold grudges.  Its a burden.  When you forgive, both parties become free.

OK, no more preaching.  It’s time to answer… Did you learn anything about yourself?

Was it hard to give grace to someone like this?

Did you find feelings of hatred stir up inside?

If you found that your emotions don’t exactly line up with the many, many verses in the Bible about forgiveness and judgement, then you are in the right place.  You are able to see the difference which will allow you to change your behavior.  The Christ-Like servant does not publicly hate or judge.  Instead, we pray.  If you believe, as the Bible tells us, that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace, then you must also believe that everyone is worth praying for.

The bottom line is are you are a hater or a pray-er?  Who do you choose to be today?

Prayer Life. What does that mean?

I pray when I fly

If I’m honest, I’m scared. It’s the one time I don’t have control…

And too many variables can go wrong. There are the extreme possibilities: terrorism, hijacking, explosive devices, and all manner of ideas that those who wish harm on innocents might concoct. But there are plenty of much more normal occurrences that can happen. Weather could be worse than predicted. Electronics can malfunction, mechanical failure can occur, human error, oversight, or judgement could cause an innumerable amount of issues, the inflight movie could be Indiana Jones 4.

I don’t have control. I don’t have the physical abilities to combat multiple armed enemies. I don’t have the technical skills to repair a damaged plane. I don’t have the engineering skills or the forensics abilities, or the foresight, or any of the myriad of needed experiences to assist when something may not go according to plan. Flying has proven to be very safe… until the news reminds us that there are exceptions to many rules in life.

So I do the only thing I can do. Yield to God. I pray. I ask for safety. I pray for those around me. I pray for the pilot, the mechanics, the flight attendants, the baggage handlers, the ticket takers. Each of them a potential hole in the security and safety of my flight… and each of them a possible hero of the day.

But prayer leads to reflection. Not knowing the entirety of each intricate detail of God’s will, I pray for myself as well. This plane will either land and I’ll continue my life (hopefully a better servant for God) or it will fall and I’ll see God momentarily (hopefully having pleased God with my life lived). A bit grim perhaps, but prayer leads us places. When we really open and pray honestly… it can lead us to many places.

I pray often during the flight. If I manage to get distracted from my quiet time with God, it doesn’t take long for some turbulence to hit, or to hear a creak, squeak or moan from the plane itself. Even the fasten seat belt sign coming on can jerk me back into prayer mode.

And all the while, I’m thinking the same thing you probably are. What a sissy! Look at everyone else enjoying the flight. Read a book, talk to someone, take a nap. This tiny fear has fully consumed me. And I go running right into my Daddy’s arms so he can make it all OK, just like a little child. Because God is our Father. He kisses the booboos, and protects us from the dark just as any Father would. And what parent doesn’t love it when the kids come to them, putting their faith in them, their trust?

This is the relationship God wants with us. To go to Him. To acknowledge He is in control. To have faith in Him. To trust in Him. To bring our fears to Him. To hide behind Him as both our authoritative father and our loving and protecting parent. But once our feet hit the ground we can’t seem to let go of the controls. Once we feel safe, as soon as we get into familiar territory, or after the fog clears, then we are ready to go at it all alone again.

Flying may get us from point A to point B, but prayer really takes us places. And when we have the strength to let go of the controls, we realize that the real fear isn’t in not having control. The real fear is what we will do with it. Running to God isn’t the weakness. Not letting go… that is the coward in us refusing to stand behind a bigger God. God wants us to pray when we are scared. Even more importantly, God wants us to pray when we aren’t afraid.

What if we offered up to God something we aren’t scared to do? Driving to work, eating lunch, mowing the lawn, time with friends and family. What if we handed EVERY moment over to God, and not just the ones we can’t do anything about anyway? What if God was not only our Father, but also our friend? And in that, we humbly share our lives with Him. But most importantly, allow Him to guide us, knowing He is in control when we let go. What if we asked Him into our lives and trusted Him in ALL things. I can answer that broadly. There would be NOTHING to fear.

I guess that is irony that what keeps us afraid is our inability to let go of our fears. But it takes a pretty deep relationship with God to understand how He works in our lives and how He responds to our faith in Him. He isn’t a genie that grants soccer wins, admonishes money, or flashes fancy clothes on us. He is a parent that loves His children and wants them to love Him back. No one feels love when the child returns with their hand out. My prayer on the plane… That was for me. The journey begins when prayer naturally exists in our lives just as we breath and sleep.