I don't know if he intended for me to accept it as law or if it was just a suggestion to guide me through prayer, but I took it as law. All of my prayers followed these organized four steps. I praised, confessed, thanked, and asked.
"Dear God, You are awesome and made everything. Please forgive me for lying to mom today. Thank you for my family and for all things.....what does supplication mean again? Oh, yeah...And, please save everybody. In Jesus name. Amen."
There were times when I was confused by God, and so I would come timidly before him and question him.
"Why would you let my dad do such horrible things to me? Why did you let Meghan die? Why did my Mom miscarry after I begged you for a little sister for years? What kind of a God lets a Dad abuse his children, Lets a little girl suddenly fall into a coma and die, and lets a baby die? I don't get you, God."
"But, I know you are sovereign, God. I know that you work all things for my good. And so I trust you. Thank you for everything. In Jesus name. Amen."
A sigh of relief...I tricked Him. And then I would seal the envelope and offer my somewhat battered but frantically patched up prayer to this harsh higher power.
And there were times when I threw away the formulas and begged with hands clasped together and tears streaming. They were prayers of repetition. I knew what I wanted, and that one thing consumed me. And, so I would repeat the request over and over and over and over again.
"Please make me a Christian. I don't want to go to hell. Please make me a Christian. I don't want to go to hell. Please make me a Christian. I don't want to go to hell."
... An incantation. I would repeat it a hundred times and then worry that a hundred wasn't enough. So, I would repeat it a hundred times more. I mostly prayed these prayers under my breath as I laid in bed at night. And, usually I would drift to sleep with the words still on my tongue. And then the prayer would drift up to heaven, un-hemmed, unfinished, desperate, and terribly messy to this fickle wizard. Although my view of God was so sadly wrong, I think that this prayer was the most honest and real. And, maybe the most honoring to him.
In all my years of formulas, tricking, and magic spell prayers I don't remember ever looking in the Bible to see what God had to say. It turns out I had it all wrong (No, duh.) I had a horribly misguided view of the one I was praying to. Stern? Harsh? Fickle? He is a thousand things, but none of those.
I wish that I had recalled the verse that said that "God is Love" 1 John 4:8 or remembered that "The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love." Psalm 103:8. If I had a better understanding of God then maybe I would have been able to "come boldly to the throne of grace, that [I] may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16 instead of stumbling towards it with shoulders stooped trying so hard to "get it right" and convince him to do as I had asked. I was so intent on presenting him with the perfect prayer that I missed out completely on the beauty that I have since discovered in it.
Psalm 139:1 says, "O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me." When I read this I finally gave up on the facade and I realized that trying to "look my best" before God was a complete waste of time. If he knows my heart then he knows that there are doubts and confusions and maybe even some anger stored up in there growing bitter. He sees right through my beautifully worded, well-constructed prayer as the hollow lie that it is. I don't think that God is very pleased when I lie and try to trick him. I think that he would be much happier if I was totally real and honest even if the "real and honest me" is a wreck.
I now have taken a completely different approach to prayer. I sit down, open my mouth, and say everything. My prayers lack eloquence at times, they have no filters, they are a mess. There is no pretty packaging or pretense. It just is. But, they are beautiful to Him and to me because understand better what the purpose of prayer is.
Prayer is acknowledging your dependence on a loving God. Prayer is getting to tell Him in person how awestruck you are by Him. Prayer is throwing yourself down at his feet in open surrender and saying, "I've got nothing. Help." Prayer is looking him in the eyes and saying, "I don't get you. You confuse me. Why would you do this to me?" Prayer is the meeting place where an unreachable and intangible God becomes real and here and now. Prayer is an intimate drawing near. Prayer is you standing naked before an Almighty Creator and knowing with confidence that He loves you not in spite of you brokenness, but because of your brokenness. Because "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." 1 Timothy 1:15-17
I know now that God is more honored with my honesty than he ever was with my attempt at perfection.
Now I am not so worried about trying to resolve everything in a single prayer and I don't try to patch up my prayers with "But, don't worry, God. I trust you." If I haven't found the answer, or I don't feel satisfied, I'll end my prayer with, "To be continued..."
I know now that wondering and questioning isn't the doubt that I have always so fearfully avoided. It's searching the immeasurable, mysterious, bountiful everything that God is.
"As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad."
There is much that I still don't understand about prayer. Why do we ask of God when He has already decided the outcome? We can't sway him; He's already decided everything. But, I ask anyways since he tells me to and I'm sure that he has a good reason.
Hey! I'm so clever and I didn't even realize it. My new "formula" is:
"I Sit down, Open my mouth, and Say everything." and that would make my new acronym "S.O.S". How appropriate?!