There are some times I am unsettled, and the words just don’t flow back to God on what set me on edge. It is times like this that I sit quietly before the Lord, bible open, heart yielded and silent, waiting for his wisdom. It’s a decision to wait until the answer comes, not wishing to yield to my own thoughts but rather have clarity that is God’s wisdom.
Recently I attended an event that should have been super encouraging, but instead God allowed me to see the deep underbelly of insecurity, of fear, and of the way human limitations stifle the work of God’s Spirit in our lives.
The presence of the spirit of God was there, yet restrained, stifled by the many words of flowery speech, of laying out theological treaties before men, rather than honest hearts cry to God almighty. And there were times that evening when the spirit was asking us to wait in silence, yet the room was buzzing with words, with sounds, with anything but silent yielding.
My unsettled spirit found no calm, no ability to just sit and wait for word from Jesus. Instead I found myself listening to words that were being voiced. My thoughts turned to my own sense of judgement, of criticism. Just because I need to sit in silence to wait before God does not mean this is true of others around me, right? Why do I want to be so critical, to judge those who share every theological treatise verbally as though they are educating God on such things.
Still very unsettled I headed home to ask God to sort this out. On the drive home the guy we pick up for church asked “whats with all those flowery words spoken tonight?” Huh,I asked him’ what do you mean? ‘ He went on to explain that Christianity, and faith in general is a new thing to him, and he was not sure he would ever get some of those expressions, or details that were so eloquent and sophisticated. He expressed his concern that Christianity was so odd and different to him. He asked if it was necessary to speak like that to God.
Everything in me took a deep breath. There is no way he could have known my thoughts, my unsettled spirit, and my heart on the matter, right? This was simple and pure questions of someone who is new at the faith. If I can be honest with him I would tell him of my thoughts, my wrestling.
I wrestled with how to respond to his questions. It’s a delicate place – not trying to judge those who wax eloquent and flourish their theology in sweeping strides of verse, yet not undermining the simplicity of prayer as conversation. But in my heart I also struggle too, knowing that conversation with the God I know is simple, easy, honest, and straight forward.
(Deep breath) I responded to our passanger: Well, Prayer is simply a conversation with God. It can look different depending on the situation But it should be honest, reverent, and sincere. Its just like speaking with a friend. So all the flowery language is not necessary, really.
“Well, then, why do some people do this? Why do they have to tell us everything they know when they are talking to God. If I were God I would be frustrated with that. Getting to the point is so important.”
(Silently I was praying those wild prayers like “Lord, help me now to find the right words, and the right things to say. I don’t want to deter faith, or undermine what you are doing in others. I need you now!!!”)
Our passenger continued with a ton of questions. He seemed genuine in his search for faith, and his analytical review of what he sees. He doesn’t always understand what he sees, or hears. He is searching for truth, and wants to process everything and find neat and clean answers.
(another deep breath, and here goes) Well, there is a passage in the gospel of Luke that gives us a glimpse into the world of two different men who came to pray. I think it might help to understand that we each come to God with different thoughts, from different places.
Luke 18:9-14New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Both men came to the temple to pray for vastly different reasons. The Pharisee came to judge others, and justify his own life based on his perception of righteousness. But the publican came humbled, yielded, broken and desperate for God’s mercy.
Prayer is no different today as it was then. People come with different reasons. Some come with an understanding that they are right before God because they are comparing themselves to others. And they justify their belief with much word, loud speech, and a display of the contents of their theology for the world to hear. Others come to God wanting only to know they are able to run to the refuge of a loving God who will accept them and forgive them. No judging either action, but if we filter what we see through the passage in Luke we learn that God will judge this… and those who puff themselves up with a lot of words will be humbled, and those who are humbled will be exhaulted by God. So its probably better to be humble, and not make long flowery speeches.
Yes, there are times when declaring the attributes of God is good… when giving voice to the truth of his promises move us to deeper faith. And yes there are times when we can be silent before God. Its often not what is said, but what lies under the words in the motives of our heart. Only God knows the heart of a man.
Our passenger thanked me for the clarification. I think he was relieved to know that he does not have to find himself waxing eloquent, or speaking the entire survey of theology when he talks to God. Even though his questions were somewhat answered, I was still a bit unsettled.
When I got home I was eager to just get apart, find some quiet space and The word that the Lord was giving me in the still quietness last night is to be still, and not look at my brothers and sisters, but like the publican, to come to God simply, yielding this hot mess to his mighty hand. Its not for me to determine what is going on in the hearts and minds of those around me.
“Lord, in your presence I rejoice that you accept this sinner, and call me to your salvation. Take from me the propensity to judge others, to filter what i hear and see through my human logic. And lord help me to never cause others to stumble. I thank you that you have called us to live for you, to humbly present ourselves to your authority, and i thank you that you will sort out the details of the human experience. Help me to always remember that judgement is your work, acceptance and mercy is mine. May you build your church. And may you teach us how to glorify you.”