We Talked About You

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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

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Showing 12 comments
  • Avatar
    Walter Hansen
    Reply

    Free at last! I too felt bound by the same disciplines of prayer and bible reading handed on to me by godly parents. I’m grateful for the freedom to walk and talk with the Spirit at my own pace in my own idiosyncratic way. Kelly’s insight resonates with my experience. I made mention of you, Fred, with thanksgiving in my morning walk-talk with God.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Walter. There is no bitterness or rejection of “godly parents” for either of us. We are both grateful for them. I know our children will find their own healthy freedoms.

    • Avatar
      Gina
      Reply

      Thanks Fred
      I have loads of lists and prayer journals too.
      I don’t always look back but when I do I see much repeat of requests
      I want to be an effective prayer
      I want to see God move and act and change
      Often it is my change of mindset that I see about the things I have listed –
      One thing is sure , God encourages me to talk about others to Him in the most random and unexpected ways! That’s the best praying I think

      • Fred Smith
        Fred Smith
        Reply

        I do believe in the importance of repeated prayers – often for years. A friend once encouraged me to look back every six months and see what my concerns were and what they are today. Some differences for sure. Some the same. But always, like you say, over time there is a change in me. I find that to be especially true when I pray for change in other people!

  • Avatar
    Tim Winn
    Reply

    After many false starts, I was able to “succeed” in daily journaling over 20 years ago. It has, for me, had a significant impact on my relationship with God as He opens me to see things I would not have seen otherwise. From my journaling there has resulted a daily on-line devotional that shares some insight in my walk with God. All are encouraged to look at it! http://www.waiting4thetrain.com

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Tim. I read waiting4thetrain and recommend it highly. I have a challenge writing something weekly and admire your discipline in putting it out daily! I am not saying journaling is wrong or that all of the spiritual disciplines are flawed. I think it is me and people like me who are not wired up for such rigor and persistence. I admire those who are!

  • Avatar
    Brian Stiller
    Reply

    Fred, Ive never heard anyone so exactly describe my aversion to routines. Off and on my morning devotions would serve only to frustrate that I hadn’t kept them up. Age, I suppose, has a way of lessening our compulsory need to match those we saw as having done it right. Jim Elliot was my model, and I so fell short of his discipline that I lived with guilt over my seeming dereliction to devotions. Now, as with you, mentioning someone to God, wondering what the Spirit is about as I walk the day, seeing opportunities of grace, all become the stuff of devotion and prayer. Brian

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Brian. This gives me heart!

  • Avatar
    Peter Joseph Kubasek
    Reply

    Wow — YOU HAVE many more SOFT rebukes like this one and we will ALL be SEEING JESUS daily in our tasks
    THANK YOU

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Peter. I hope it did not come across as a rebuke -even a soft one. When I was a principal at a Christian school a parent told me she had the gift of rebuke and would be glad to exercise it with any faculty causing me a problem. Needless to say, she became the problem! Still, I appreciate your encouraging me.

  • Avatar
    Chris Herschend
    Reply

    I always like your writing, but I always love these comments and the back-and-forth. It’s like walking in to a room where spiritual giants take their coffee breaks together.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Well, I may have to read the comments more closely now to make sure they are “giant-like”! You are always welcome in the room, Chris. Keep me in the loop on IJM. Gary was kind enough to do an endorsement for my book. Maybe because I introduced him to you?

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