We Talked About You
Listen to “We Talked About You” by Fred Smith
Like so many, I have struggled over the years with the discipline of prayer. Actually, it is more honest to say the contest has been with all kinds of discipline – not just prayer. My life does not take well to routine. Easily bored and distracted, the demands of regular prayer and a devotional plan for me has been full of fits and starts. Like diet programs, I can keep them up for a time and then I lapse.
I have tried scores of those available. For decades I have read “My Utmost For His Highest” in the mornings and made a note in the margin for the year I read it. For some days those notations fill the blank spaces on the page and for others are scarce. They tell the story of how my discipline would come and go in waves with some years being far more diligent than others. I think about my daughters someday reading through the worn copy and seeing my checkered pattern of devotion. Maybe they will be disappointed at my lack of regularity or perhaps surprised I was more faithful than they knew. I’ve written before about my Grandfather’s journals and even though the sameness of his life must have been mind-numbing, he did not miss recording a day of his work as a pastor.
For several years I kept a prayer journal and recorded all my thoughts, concerns, intercessions, and insights. I have a dozen completed journals on the shelf from years past. It was, for a time, satisfying in the same way physical exercise is when it becomes a habit. Thumbing through them now I can see how I fell in love with lists. It started out with a few items and then expanded as I became more aware of issues, requests, a larger world of missions, and the growing responsibility to pray. In time, not only my list had expanded to fill the whole page but it now included both the minutiae of my life and praying for the entire world. I was taking on more and more things about which I could do nothing. I had gradually shouldered the burdens of the whole world and my swelling lists were wearing me out.
But like friends who are committed to working out, I was finding ways to make it interesting. Instead of new shoes and gear, I was looking for journals that were just the right size, paper conducive to writing, and soft leather covers with straps that tied. The accessories were more important than the habit. I suppose it was the dailiness of it that finally got to me and I began to put it off. In time, I stopped completely.
I realized that most of the programs for prayer were designed by left-brain devotional engineers who thrived on systems and predictability. Naturally, there were plans for reading through the Bible in a year in installments but all of it seemed to be written and promoted by those who relished the regularity of it. Like monks faithfully praying the seven canonical hours, they set a standard I could not possibly match. Still, I wanted to because I knew that was what I should be doing.
An Easy Yoke
One day while preparing a Sunday School lesson I read the King James Version of Paul’s description of his prayer for the believers in Ephesus. “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints cease not to give thanks, making mention of you in my prayers.” Making mention was, to me, another way of saying I made a comment about you to God when we were talking. It was not a list or a structured discipline but a conversation and your name came up. It was ordinary in the best possible way; particular and not universal; personal and not a category; not a formula or even a system. Rather, it was a yoke that was comfortable and light.
The Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly describes it well: “God more powerfully speaks within you and me to our truest selves in our truest moments and disquiets us with the world’s needs. By inner persuasions God draws us to a few very definite tasks – OUR tasks, God’s burdened heart particularizing God’s burden in us.”
Today, I mention people to God and He often asks me how they are doing. He already knows, of course, but it helps me to bring them up. It’s neither haphazard nor a burden for the universe. It will likely not earn me the label of “prayer warrior” but the release from lists, programs, and systems built and effective for others is a joy. It is becoming the delight it is meant to be.
*Photo by Fred Smith