I’ve blogged about it before, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much. But I had an extended time of crisis and trial, and all my prayers, praising, declaration and faith formulas apparently did nothing to turn things around. When my strength was exhausted, I gave up–in the sense that I leaned myself completely on the Lord, declaring that we would survive (or not) by His hand alone. And it wasn’t until I let go that things began to turn around; and God gave us rest.
During that time of trial, I spent lots of time in prayer. But when the season changed, I found that I didn’t really want to spend hours and hours in prayer and study anymore. I found this very disturbing, first because I had believed all my life that these disciplines were a key to my spiritual health, and second because I was a pastor, and I was worried that my people would distrust me if they found out their pastor didn’t want to pray. I tried to keep it going; but I had no motivation whatsoever. All I wanted to do was something else–anything else. I kept taking my spiritual pulse: Am I still saved? Am I backsliding? Don’t I love Jesus anymore?
After a time, it dawned on me why I was having such a problem; I didn’t see the use of it. In my estimation, all my striving in prayer had gotten me nowhere. And I was tired. And I was bored with the whole thing. (Hmm…no lightning bolt struck me when I wrote that. I am still here. God must be merciful…)
Actually, what I began to realize was that although prayer and study are good and healthy…I had been doing them religiously. And religiously was the only way I knew how to do those things. So naturally, when my religion failed me, I lost interest.
But I never lost interest in Jesus. And that was the key to my understanding.
What I needed was not to practice religion, but to re-learn my spirituality. I needed to know how to talk to God as a trusted Friend, a faithful Father, the Lover of my soul. Relationship, not routines.
Isn’t it interesting how many different ways God describes Himself to man in the Scriptures? Just look at the three analogies above–a Friend, a Father, a Lover. God uses all of these and more to describe Himself. He doesn’t go into great details in Scripture about His Three-in-One nature. He doesn’t go into great dissertations about the paradox of Jesus being begotten, yet eternal. He describes Himself to us in terms of human relationships. Because relationship is what God is looking for.
As a passionate worshiper, I did love Jesus with all my heart, the best I knew how to love Him at that time. But my spiritual walk itself had been a formula, a mere discipline based on theology. So when I realized this, I gave myself permission to relax. I actually gave myself permission not to read my Bible every day. (Gasp!) I relaxed and redefined what my prayer life looked like. I stopped fretting over how much time I was spending, or not spending, with God. I continued to talk to God, but I began letting it be more natural, more through-the-course-of-the-day. I did not do this to set an example for others–and I’m not making a doctrine out of this. For me, it was necessary to de-construct my religion, so I could re-learn a better way.
In my life right now, there are several things I am uncertain about, things that concern me, things I want to talk to God about, a bit more intensely than in recent days, which have been largely days of rest for me spiritually. It is intriguing to me, though, how after all this time of de-constructing, it is still almost second nature to launch into religious-type praying. But even as I find myself starting to pray the old ways–it sits in my mouth like a piece of stale bread. My motivation leaves as soon as it comes. And I almost literally ask myself, What is in my heart to say to God about this? And then my prayer comes out much differently.
This must be something like what learning to walk again would feel like. It’s awkward, and sometimes I feel like my prayer makes little sense. But it’s real. And it contains a connection to God I haven’t felt in a long time.