Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Today I Need to Pray

Today I need to pray.

Because I don't know what else to do.

I'm not at the end of my rope. Not remotely. I'm not panicked or suffering. I just need to pray because what else am I for? I shouldn't be having an existential crisis all the time, but the question, "What am I here for?" just doesn't go away. Not that I don't have answers. Good, sensible, rational answers. Answers that should be inspiring and motivating and fulfilling. I know what I'm here for. At least, I know the answer. But I forget. ALL the time, I forget. It's like some kind of personality disorder. If you could hear the conversation in my head you would hear me stop what I am doing every few minutes and say to myself, "Why am I doing this?" It is the way of life that we get distracted. We even get distracted from being distracted. This goes deeper and deeper so that before we realize it, we can't remember what we were being distracted from in the first place.

So I need to pray. What else am I for? Prayer is a conversation. Conversation is an interview. Interviews consist of questions and answers. So I ask God questions. I interview my maker as I imagine him. Surely I don't speak to him as he really is, because I haven't seen all of him. It's just a disguised voice, an avatar. I speak to a stand-in who is the best representation I can come up with in my little human mind. I believe God puts up with this because that's grace. He desires I speak to him directly, and he will one day make that desire come to pass, but for now he allows our arrangement. He lets me talk to him as I do now because he knows that one day I will be able to speak to him in a better way. Today I am a child asking the silliest questions imaginable. "Why am I here? Are you listening? Do you care what I think? What's the point? What's my value? What does "meaning" mean?"

I can see my silliness, but what can I do about it? Can a child stop being childish? Should they?
I need to pray because it is the primary function I was made for. Or at least it is a reflection of the primary function I was made for. It is the closest I can get to the Garden of Eden. Prayer is me putting my hand against the prison glass while God holds his hand on the opposite side.

Then again, John Piper said, "Prayer is a wartime walkie talkie not a domestic intercom." That relates right? Yeah, it is true that prayer is our call for support and direction as we carry on the mission of serving God. I get that. But my first priority in prayer is not to call in a spiritual airstrike or even to find direction. My very first foundational task in prayer is to establish contact. Just to tune in and get a signal at all sometime seems like the biggest challenge. A lot of times the voice I hear when I pray most closely resembles my own. That doesn't mean that God isn't speaking to me, but it definitely makes it harder to listen.

It is easier not to pray. That is a lie that I often believe. It feels right in the moment. Distraction feels like a relief. A new distraction is like turning a corner when you're lost. There is no reason to believe that it will get you closer to your goal, but you get a feeling like it might lead somewhere important. All the while you've forgotten where you were trying to get to in the first place. Prayer means admitting that there is a real goal out there even if you are a little foggy about it at the moment. It is admitting that those distractions that are so enticing actually lead no where. Prayer introduces all the danger that an encounter with the Divine entails.

Danger! It is such a good word to go with prayer. You know that feeling when you approach the edge of a great height? When you are safely away from the edge, but walking closer gives you the feeling that you might be doing something foolish. At the same time it is exciting. The height itself takes on a personality. It draws you in. It promises you a scenic view that elicits a primal response that makes you feel alive.

Sometimes I don't think we like to feel alive. That's why distraction is so enticing. It helps us forget, not that we are going to die, but that we are alive at all. Distraction makes us feel like there is nothing at stake, like there is nothing to lose after all. Danger reminds us that loss is imminent. Prayer that doesn't feel dangerous is just more distraction. Today, I need to pray because I need to be dangerously close to God. Just stepping in his direction feels dangerous and that's good. Why do I need it?

Because I am franticly worried that I'm missing the most important part of who I am. That's why I signed up with Jesus in the first place. Yes, even when I was a child I new "something was missing." I didn't say it that way then, but I believed what my world presented me--that I was a sinner loved by God needing his mercy. I knew I needed something. My immature self was incomplete in a way that I felt would not be answered by learning more in school or asking more questions of my "why?"-weary parents. I can't explain it, but I knew. So I threw in my lot with the Lord. Since then I've made furtive advances. I shuffle my feet in the right direction, but I can rarely bring myself to look in the right direction for more than a moment. I'm stalling because I know the closer I get to the edge the more danger I'll see. For me prayer is like walking directly toward the edge of an unknown cliff. God is dangerous I know, but how dangerous? How ready am I to see him, really see him? I very well could be destroyed in the process. Oh, I know we deny that possibility by claiming the promises of salvation. But what is eternal life really? Will I be able to bear it? Is it survivable? Foolish questions I know, but I am a child. I ask childish questions.

I need to pray because when I've forgotten everything else and lost my direction I can see somewhere above me a single point of light. I can gaze at that light and somehow remember that I exist. I can follow the ray of that light down to my feet and see that I am indeed standing and can indeed move forward. Prayer is looking at the light and seeing what the light illuminates (hat tip to C.S. Lewis).

What am I doing? I'm praying. Yes. That's it. I need to be praying.