When Mike approached me about leading the prayer ministry, I felt very ill equipped. Of course I pray, but I also knew that I was not the prayer warrior that I envision the leader of a prayer ministry to be. In fact, I sometimes struggle with prayer. I struggle because I don’t always know what to say, or how to ask for what I need. I also struggle because sometimes when I sit down to pray, I get distracted and lose track of my prayers. Another struggle that I sometimes have is what I should pray for – for example, I struggle with the will of God – can my prayers and requests really change the will of God? Do my prayers matter? Is God listening?
During Christmas of 2003, one of my dearest friends gave me a book, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. I read the book a few years ago, but when I saw the book on my shelf again, I felt drawn to it. When I read this book now, it is as if it was written just for me. The book is a collection of letters and interviews with Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence served his brothers by working in a kitchen – a task to which he naturally had a great aversion (maybe this is why the book speaks to me – I also hate the kitchen!) However, Brother Lawrence is not at all like me. Despite working in the kitchen, which he naturally did not like, Brother Lawrence accustomed himself “to do everything [in the kitchen] for the love of God, and with prayer, upon all occasions.” (page 20). I quickly learned that Brother Lawrence viewed even the most menial task as a way to praise God and worship him. In an interview, he stated that we should give ourselves up to God, and “seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling of his will, whether He lead us by suffering or by consolation, for all would be equal to a soul truly resigned.” (page 16)
When asked how he found himself in constant communion with God, he responded that he tried to do all “for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.” (page 17). He stated, “we ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs, just as they happen.” (page 19). Brother Lawrence stated that finding himself in the constant presence of God was not easy at first, but he accomplished this by having “no other care at first but faithfully to reject every other thought, that he might perform all his actions for the love of God.”
Needless to say, these passages have challenged me. This book has clearly pointed out the reasons I have problems with prayer. First, I make prayer too complicated. I worry about the proper way to ask for things, and I am concerned with praying the “churchy” way. However, as Brother Lawrence stated, we should simply “act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly.” Prayer is not complicated. It is simply a conversation with God.
I was most challenged by the motives behind Brother Lawrence’s prayers. I often ponder whether I can change the will of God with my prayers. However, this is a moot point. Prayer for Brother Lawrence was not about changing his circumstances. Prayer was also not about seeking his gifts. How many of us can say that? The majority of my prayers tend to be asking God to change this situation or that situation in my life. I also spend a lot of time asking God for his gifts.
However, Brother Lawrence’s prayers do not focus on his outward circumstances at all. When Brother Lawrence prayed, he prayed to be closer to God, he prayed to “perform all his actions for the love of God.” This is a hard pill to swallow. Most of us would rather beg God to change our lives and fix our circumstances. Then we become discouraged, angry and bitter when God does not “answer” our prayers. However, the point of prayer is to draw us closer to God – closer to a complete and constant communion with God. Through prayer, our relationship with God should develop to the point that our prayers are simply prayers for God’s will – because our will will become God’s will.
This is hard – I know it is hard for me because I am selfish. It is scary and hard to ask to be more like God, and it is terrifying to seek only to live life for the love of God. However, in the book, it is clear that Brother Lawrence was at peace and content in the presence of God.
If we truly seek peace, and if we want our prayers to be answered, we have to start by having frank and honest discussions with God. Most importantly, we have to begin to take the focus off of our external circumstances, and we have to begin to pray for our inner souls. We have to seek to live a life by which we perform all of our actions for the love of God.
The challenge this week is to pray to do everything in our lives (even the tasks that we hate) for the love of God, and with prayer, upon all occasions.
Remember, you can also read the prayer email update at http://bethleann.blogspot.com/
Also, as an outreach, the Refinery will be collecting eyeglasses to donate to the Lion’s Club. Please bring your glasses to church and we will deliver them!