what prayer is not
Yesterday I shared a post as part of a blog tour with Overcome The Lie – an organization that “exists to empower a generation of women to overcome the lie because Jesus overcame the grave”. You can check out their blog and see the week one and week two blog round ups or get connected via Twitter \\ Facebook \\ Instagram \\ Pinterest… Look at that. So many ways to connect. Incredible. Social media for the win. I am so glad to be part of what God is doing through the hearts of these girls! For my part, I drew from the session I taught at a retreat I was blessed to be part of a couple years ago – one that focused on encouraging women to connect with God and move past the hurts & hurdles that were keeping them from entering His presence with prayer and praise. We just inadvertently consume so many lies about what it means to BE with God, to experience His life and what that requires…and I want to address those. Because y’all – if you belong to Christ and are hidden in Him, then the very Spirit of the Living God indwells you. You can’t GET any closer than that! To read part one of this series, click here!
There tend to be some problems, generally speaking, with how the church communicates what it means to “experience God” through prayer. I want to quickly paint a picture of two extremes we encounter in Christian circles (though I’m sure there are more examples) and address those first. These are what prayer is not. Then we’ll take a look at how the Scriptures & Biblical scholars handle the communion of God and man, with the end goal of having a clearer picture of what it truly, biblically looks like to experience Holy God through prayer.
The first extreme is that we have to do more. There are checklists of personal disciplines and group activities and events we have to do to experience the Living God. There is quiet time. There is bible study. There is prayer and communion and worship and the trickiest part of all is that these things are, actually, good & biblical. They are disciplines we develop as believers. But if we are not careful we will find ourselves worshiping the disciplines rather than the One to whom they point. We can even leave church or small group feeling like we are failing, because we haven’t “done more” for God, “done more” to experience God. The idea of doing, without backed by a sense of God’s peace and out of an overflow of our love for Him, leaves us weary and condemned, looking to a formula rather than to the Father.
The second extreme that many churches and pastors teach is that experiencing God is all about an emotional experience. The idea that somehow, under the right circumstances and with the right settings, we will be able to feel God’s presence all the time. We must feel His closeness, we must weep every Sunday, we must be moved emotionally by His power, and then we experience God. Again, there are biblical precedents for emotional responses to the gospel – it’s a POWERFUL message and therefore can, should and does move us. But if we are relying on a feeling to tell us if we are experiencing God, we can be left frustrated, dry and believing we must be disconnected from the Father. We find ourselves worshiping the emotional experience, rather than the Author of Life.
Let me restate, so I am clear: spiritual disciplines are right & good. Having a powerful, emotional response to God’s love & saving power is right & good. I am simply painting a picture of what we do when we elevate these things above knowing God Himself, knowing Jesus Christ His Son. It is entirely unnecessary to add ANYTHING to the gospel, but we do it all the time, don’t we? Our words may not say so, but our lives say, “Jesus plus my excellently disciplined quiet time” or “Jesus plus witnessing to every kid I meet on campus” or “Jesus plus volunteering at church”…Jesus plus this will get me to God. False.
When we state, implicitly or explicitly, that there is something MORE than Jesus that is necessary to experience God, we are saying that the indwelling life of the Son of God is not enough. And we are on dangerous ground when we do so. So when we go into prayer, when we go into community with the body of Christ, when we do anything in the name of the Father, we must be aware that the temptation is there to make it about the DOING or FEELING, instead of being with God, obeying Him, responding to Him. When we are aware of that temptation – to take the spiritual disciplines to the extreme and create a formula – we are ready to hear and respond to God in times of prayer.
Check out more on tearing down lies from contributors at OvercomeTheLie.org.