“That I would be able to set boundaries on my life so as to provide space for my relationship with God to develop.”
My mouth hit the floor as I heard it.
It was a blessing to have my folks sleep over at our house recently. Chatting with mum, chatting with dad both one on one and sometimes all of us in the room. In this particular case my Dad was sharing in relation to a conversation he had with a lady who was super active in mission work.
I can’t give too much details because I want to protect her identity, but let’s just say super active. Yet in the midst of the said conversation, when the question came up from my dad: “How can I pray for you?” the above response was the answer.
Perhaps it impacted me because I am entering a time in my life where I am probably the busiest that I have ever been. Or maybe because simultaneously, there’s a part of me a little worried about our prayer lives being run by what emails we’ve subscribed to say.
And, if we’re so busy being drowned in information, we struggle to get to the place of heartfelt prayer.
I see multiple layers of self-awareness in this response. Let me unpack a few.
- Prayer cannot survive a lack of boundaries.
Luke 5:16 says that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. I imagine that a first century jew would find that far more shocking than we do. Particularly because of what is not said; ‘Jesus went to the temple to pray.’ That’s what it ‘should’ say, but when Jesus goes to the temple we find him causing a ruckus.
Jesus drew boundaries around his ministry. For those in ministry you’ll know that folks are often saying things like “don’t burn out,” or “you need to learn to say ‘no’ to some things,” right up until the moment that it’s their thing that you say ‘No‘ to. Not only did Jesus draw boundaries around himself, but he also drew them around other people. Imagine if you were some of the disciples who didn’t get invited into the room when Jesus raised the dead girl to life, or missed out on the transfiguration?
But it happens. Jesus only invites certain people into his most intimate moments of conversation with God and most of the time, he shuts others out all together. As the saying goes, if Jesus had to grind out solitude for prayer, how arrogant are we to assume that we wouldn’t need to?
Moreover, let’s respect a boundary when we run into it.
- ‘Spiritual work’ is not the same as prayer and can easily replace/destroy it.
Luke 10:38-42 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a]Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
There is an absolute ocean of spiritual truth in this text but for the sake of this article I simply want to focus on one thing. Martha is doing what she thinks is the ‘Lord’s work’. Yes it’s social convention, but we’re talking about the social conventions of the people of Israel, ie; God’s people. Their culture and conventions are formed by the tenants of what it means to be God’s people. as far as Martha is concerned, she is doing the spiritual hard yards of hospitality…..and it’s distracting her. Jesus nails it (as usual) in his response that all her work, as ‘righteous’ as it may be has become a distraction.
There’s a word for when distractions have started to control us: idolatry.
I wonder if one of the reasons why prayer can sometimes be a confronting thing is because we have a sense that Jesus is going to look at a lot of our ‘business for him’ and say: what are you doing this for?
- Like any relationship, a relationship with Jesus requires space for both parties to move around in.
My wife, Alycia has an early appointment up in Perth tomorrow morning so it is way easier for her to sleep over up at her parents’ tonight. Does that mean I’m going to be calling her 50 times in the night to check up on how she is? No of course not. That’s not relationship, that’s….weird.
One way that I need to love my wife as a husband is to not be overbearing and controlling. Moreover, the moment I do, according to 1 Peter 3:7, God will not be paying any attention to my prayers. (Fellas, are you listening? If you’re prayer life seems dead, ask your missus how she’s feeling.) A relationship with God needs space. It’s not God’s job to answer out every beck and call within 5 minutes. Jesus didn’t come back from his ‘lonely spaces’ the moment he’d finished his latte. Prayer takes time. Sometimes it means learning to sit still for half an hour before in the still silence we hear his voice in our heart.
That sounds so impossible because many Christians are time poor. But what if we are time-poor because we’re not bringing everything to God first? I mean this with the utmost seriousness: I have noticed that the more I have tried to solve things on my own the more they have spiralled into ‘time wasters’, whereas, those things that have been brought before the Lord first have been cut and dry way quicker and easier than expected. In fact, two distinct examples of the latter come to mind already this week.
- If there’s no movement/development in your relationship with God, you’re not praying, and the relationship….isn’t.
A bit of a no-brainier this one but how often do we ignore it? If there’s no drive to develop the relationship….is there really a relationship to develop?
In his book ‘Meaning of Marriage’ Tim Keller points out that a Marriage can survive even if one party is determined to work on it, and the other willing to cooperate with that. It’s amazing how love begets love. where your treasure is, indeed your heart will follow.
We’re not here to develop our prayer life to get to a higher plane of holiness or effectiveness, but because we love Jesus. That’s it. Every single unnecessary complexity that stands between us and a vibrant prayer life has been put there by us, not God. A prayer for the development of a healthy prayer life is the beginning of it’s own answer.
- Most importantly the above 4 risks will kill your prayer life and hence relationship with God, save for the intervention of the Spirit.
This is a person asking for prayer. That is; this is a person aware that ultimately a vibrant prayer life is a gift from an external source rather than an achievement from internal resources. When you ask someone to pray for you, you are asking someone to leverage their relationship with Jesus to cast his attention of his Holy Spirit to your situation. Astonishingly, the very opportunity and impulse to do this emanates from the same Holy Spirit.
That’s confusing so here’s the summary: someone asking you to pray for them something that would clearly be God’s will, is the Trinity inviting human communities into the centre of its eternal dance, played out in our physical time and space.
I said it would be simpler, not less mind blowing….
The Spirit intercedes for us….sometimes through each other to save us from our-selves.
What grace that is.