For approximately the past year I have been on amazing journey of exploration and discovery. It has been exhilarating, mysterious, surprising, frustrating, uplifting, convicting, at times breathtaking and always leaves me wanting more. As I consider sharing my thoughts, I feel somewhat overwhelmed. For I know at best, my attempts to explain my journey will be feeble.
The thoughts I would like to share with you are more like journal entries from a trip as opposed to an analysis from an expert. My thoughts are simple, yet to me, very deep. To be honest, I want to talk about something I'm not exactly sure how to talk about.
Andrew Murray explained it like this, "It is as natural and joyous as breathing. It is the true spiritual life. It is the inhaling of the true spiritual atmosphere." It is something that all of my spiritual heroes knew, loved and that which set them apart. That which I am talking about is prayer.
Augustine said, “What can be more excellent than prayer; what is more profitable to our life; what sweeter to our souls; what more sublime, in the course of our whole life, than the practice of prayer?”
If I asked you today, "What is your prayer life like?" What would you say? You might say good or bad, depending on how much time you spend in prayer, or based on how you feel emotionally when you are done praying or based on what you gained from your time in prayer. This is the way I would have responded too, but that is changing.
Over a year ago I gathered my family and told them what I wanted written on my tombstone. I know what you're thinking, "Your tombstone??? Are you planning on dying or something?!" Well, quite honestly, the answer is... yes. Now don't misunderstand me, I don't mean that I'm planning on dying anytime soon, but I am very aware of the fact dying is a part of living and we are all headed in that direction. Like my friend says, "I don't know about you, but death runs in my family!"
I told my wife Elli and my kids that if and only if it were true, that I would like my epitaph to simply read, "He walked with God". I meant it, yet when I said it, I knew what I was saying was my desire, but not necessarily my current reality. Either way, it seems that God took me seriously and I began an amazing journey with the Holy Spirit that led me to where I am today. An amazing journey, that is, after twenty years of full time Christian service.
You might be thinking, "Are you telling me that after twenty years of ministry you are just now starting to pray?" No, but I THINK I am finding out the difference between what it means to be religious and what it means to know God. You see, since my conversion, I have been passionately in love with all that I knew about God. I loved His sacrificial death on the cross, His miracles, His mercy, His forgiveness, His grace, His word and His resurrection. You see, in twenty years of ministry you learn a lot about God and as a result, you know a lot about God and can even give fiery speeches about God, but that is not the same as knowing God.
The only way I know how to describe what I am going through is with a picture. Imagine with me that I am walking carefree on what appears to be an icy frozen tundra. I am not cold or uncomfortable. On the contrary, I like where I am. As I walk though, I become thirsty. I have no water, so I begin looking. Soon, my search for something to drink becomes somewhat frantic. And then I find it... a small crack in the ice and in the crack I see water coming up. I put my finger in the crack and pry the ice loose, only to discover that beneath the ice I am standing on is the ocean... the ocean of God Himself.
This is a picture of my prayer life with God over the past twenty five years (I became a Christian 25 years ago. What a wonderful encounter). I traveled happily just knowing about God, doing missionary work, living off past spiritual experiences (walking on the frozen tundra) and hearing the whisper of the Holy Spirit from time to time (the water in the crack in the ice). Little did I know that I was only scratching the surface of the enormity of God Himself. Now I know that drinking from the ocean is not good, but drinking from the ocean of God is wonderful. Please let me try to explain.
My prayer life has consisted primarily of my words. I would pray until I ran out of words and then my prayer time would be over. If I had a lot to tell God, then my prayer time would be longer than the times when I had little to say. You see, my time with God was based on what I had to say. You know, like a one way conversation. But is that really all there is to prayer? Isn't prayer supposed to be intimate communion with God? Isn't it supposed to be a two way conversation?
You might be saying, "Tom, how's it all work?" Well, I'm not sure that I have the answer, but I may be able to point you in a good direction. Start by following the example of our Lord. Mark 1:35 simply states, "Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed." This was a common practice of Jesus (I encourage you to do your own study on this). Let's observe.
First, we see that Jesus rose early. Notice that Jesus' view of restoring His strength was not sleeping in late, but rising early. Second, He found a place to be alone (solitude) and third He met with His Father and He prayed. If Jesus, being God, needed to get away to a quiet place and pray, what makes us think that we can effectively serve Him without doing to same? Jesus Himself stated in John 5:30, "I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me."
Just take a moment and ponder some things today: What defines your prayer life? Do we really think we need Him, or do we just say that we do? Can we get along without Him? Is our prayer life just a one way conversation? Does your prayer time end when you run out of words to say? Is that all there is to communion with God?
More to come.