Friday, February 17, 2017

Adventures in Prayer . . . and the Barriers that Hold Us Back

It's a special joy to walk with students as they wrestle with how to relate to God. Sometimes questions come up in class discussion. Other times its a conversation with a student in my office. This semester I get to "look over their shoulders" by reading student reflections on their small group meetings. Students are responding eagerly to these meetings, where they meet to talk about their spiritual lives with one another, using A Spiritual Formation Workbook.

Why is God not answering me when I cry out to him?
This week I tried praying 5 minutes a day. I'm embarrassed about how hard this was for me!
What is the point of fasting?
I'm so angry at God right now. How can I pray?
How can I know what God wants me to do with my life?
If God is good, why wouldn't he make it easier to communicate with him?

I'm realizing that one of the biggest barriers to prayer is the idea that we need to pray a certain way or with a certain attitude. We so easily lose sight of the invitation we have to come into God's presence just as we are. This week I encouraged one student to go for a hike in the woods and rant at God, telling him how angry he is. There's no way to get past the anger until it's expressed. I told another student that she doesn't need to swallow her disappointments so that she can come to God cheerfully. God wants us to voice those disappointments in his presence. I had the privilege of praying with another student for physical healing.

The other major barrier to prayer is busyness. We don't pray because every moment is filled with sensory input of other kinds – music, headlines, newsfeeds, conversation, podcasts, Netflix, homework. We've lost the art of sitting in stillness. One student plans to try a social media fast. Another practiced sitting quietly for 5 minutes each day this week. Inspired by the story of Frank Laubach, others are intrigued by the idea of inviting God into every moment of their day. Is that even possible? And if so, what would be the benefit?

A third barrier is unfamiliarity. We can't expect to become spiritual giants overnight. Spiritual growth takes time, and spiritual disciplines take practice. I'm praying that God would reward each student's efforts to connect with him and would stir their hunger for more.

Prayer is like the old game "Othello" — it takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. Prayer is nothing more and nothing less than a conversation with God. That seems simple enough. But creating space for prayer, learning to truly open up in prayer, exploring new ways of praying, discerning God's voice, coming to love prayer . . . these things take time. It's the adventure of a lifetime!

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