Sunday, April 30, 2006

Prayer (an afterward, answering a question)

"But it is easy for that prayer to be a surrender to lowered expectations rather than a beginning."

Stephen,could you expand on this part a little more for me? Is it because that such surrender occurs because one don't pray to God to intercede beyond asking for the Spirit? Is it a surrender because we surrender the opportunity to draw closer to God, or to know His will?

Does silence in the second kind of prayer mean that we are out of tune, perhaps, or is it like the silence of 'you're on the right path' 'either is fine'?

There are many areas in life where prayer and heartbreak go hand-in-hand. Most of them are singular events, and people find prayer restores them. For example, in grief, it is well researched and well documented that those who prayer sincerely, regardless of their faith, recover better and receive peace.

People begin to have problems when they have repeating tragedies, either from their own blindness or from external events, that they are not rescued from. For example, Geoff finds comfort in the intercessory prayers that saved his son. Even if his son had died, he would have had comfort in the restoration of hope and faith the Spirit can bring. But consider what would happen if his son had died, then another son had died and then another. At some point, like the alcoholic who prays for God to save him from the bottle, he would start to associate prayer with a failure of intercession and might see God as being aware that sparrows fall, but not doing anything about it. People in that situation often pray for God's intercession only in the presence of the Spirit (one don't pray to God to intercede beyond asking for the Spirit), they've given up on seeking more from God. They've surrendered to a loss of hope in some ways.

I have to admit I've found twelve-step programs fascinating because almost everyone in them has experienced continuous failure of intercessory prayer to help them with the core of whatever their program is about. What are the second and third steps? They the time when the program tells them that God will intercede, and are a point of great difficulty for many religious people who have a solid, experience based, knowledge that God won't, because it appears that he hasn't. Then, God does. Twelve step programs are, at their hearts, spiritual programs that seek intercessory prayer on the level of "O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God ..." (Alma 22:18).

The next step, in prayer, beyond finding the comfort of the Spirit (and that is by no means a small thing or something to be disregarded) is to seek to know God's will and to have the courage, faith and strength to fulfill it as it applies to us. I've written before about my wife and graduate school and how I admire her (it was hard on all of us, especially with a new baby, but by far hardest on her, by far, and I admire her courage).

If we stop at the presence of the Spirit, we have given up on drawing closer to God (often from fear of being hurt again) and knowing his will. Though when we seek that, sometimes we have silence. Sometimes silence means we are on track and we just need to be patient. At mile ten in a marathon, there isn't much to do except keep running (and yes, I know I've simplified my example). Sometimes silence means we need to draw closer to God and that we need to work on that -- that is, the right path for us is to keep seeking and getting closer.

Which brings me full circle on the question asked: what is a major step in prayer, being able to seek and find the comfort and presence of the Spirit, can be a surrender if we stop there and let experience dissuade us from seeking more. When we seek more, it is important to realize that silence (on which I have blogged about here) means very little besides silence and that we should continue seeking.

God bless and answer your prayers.


Unknown said...

I've been suffering two years of debilitating depression and anxiety. During that time my prayers have become more humble. I have stopped asking God to make it go away to help me get over this, because it didn't happen. And it didn't happen and it didn't happen and it didn't happen...Then one night I asked for more humility and everything proceeded to come crashing down around me. I lost all my comforts. And from this dark place I learned to ask for peace, for the path to healing, to learn how to love myself and those around me more fully. I can see the small slow ways these prayers are answered and how I have changed in the process. I have a long way to go yet. God would not bend to my original pleading, I had to learn what I needed and I had to learn to desire those things that were more important than my mental health. I have changed. It sounds to me like Ethesis was describing this process in the above. Thanks, E. And thank you for your love that I could feel from faraway, even if I couldn't answer your emails.

annegb said...

JL, I'm going through something like that right now. I don't understand how to contact God from this place of utter depression. I kneel and He doesn't respond. I pray in my heart and He doesn't respond.

One thing that's happening, though, is that others are stepping up and carrying me through.

This is a wonderful discussion, Stephen, I liked the questioner's question about silence. I've wondered the same thing.

CS Lewis writes about this in
A Grief Observed, have you read it?

Unknown said...


I don't feel a response when I pray. It's an exercise of pure faith. I know God is there and listening even though I can't feel Him. Maybe it would help if you saw the act of prayer as a healthy exercise, like showering, one more thing to keep you from completely drowning in despair and disability. That's how I treat it, part of my necessary routine. It's my small act to show God that I still believe. And slowly, through that act, I am learning what is most important. Maybe if you stop waiting for a response, you'll find one where you least expected it. Just keep holding on.

annegb said...

No, I want to hear from Him, loud and proud.

Although you have a point.

Anonymous said...

Stephen, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, and to refer me to the post you'd made before on silence.

I've been reading, pondering, rereading and mulling...

jl--having a similar struggle, myself, with health issues. I'm filled with many questions and not much comfort or many answers right now.

anne, loud and proud, I like that =)