I can admit it: I'm getting on my OWN nerves. (listening for the winds of transformation)
If I am honest, I'm fairly certain I don’t believe that prayer “works.” I doubt I’m unique in this. And yet, I pray. What’s even more strange is, as I think about it, I value prayer. It is a practice that matters to me.
I guess what I am realizing is that something compels me to pray, to seek God, to be still and listen, to open myself up for him to catch my thoughts like a breeze blowing me in his direction. God supports and inspires my prayers. The deep changes that happen in a person, the deep changes that happen in me, happen because God is mysteriously at work. The smoothest rocks I find on the shoreline are the ones that have been tossed about in the ocean for years. They have been washed over wave upon wave for so long that their shape has literally changed, their rough edges have become soft. I am sitting in the center of mid-life. Lots of years have washed over me. As I look back, the good things God has wanted to imprint upon me, qualities from his divine nature, have been working on me like waves. No one thing, in terms of my growth, has happened fast. Strongholds breaking off today likely started loosening their grip, slowly but surely, way back when. Knowing this, I can raise a glass to the long haul. I can identify small successes in my daily life to celebrate. I can fan the tiny flame of hope regarding the many other messed up things about me. We all can. Ruth Haley Barton talks about spiritual transformation in her book, Scared Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. Change, or better said, “metamorphosis,” is something we cannot do ourselves. The significant changes in us happen because a work is being done upon us from outside of us. God is rearranging and resetting and rebuilding. He is doing it all the time. This slow but sure work requires trust. I appreciate how she says it: It is one thing to tweak and control external behaviors; it is another thing to experience those seismic shifts that change the way I exist in the world…that kind of change is something only God can do. Busyness can really mess us up. The problem is, we don’t stop long enough to think about the changes we want to see in ourselves. Most of us can’t name, “I struggle with X.” If we can pinpoint these flaws and sin patterns, we typically attempt to “tweak and control” them. Rarely do our children or friends hear us speak of weaknesses and those things we want God to overcome in us. In the end, we live out our days ignoring these deficiencies and defects. As they grow in size and power, so grows personal deception. My guess is most families don’t practice surrender together, times of asking God for help. We may have family devotions and keep ritual prayers before meals, but the work of God comes through admitting weakness and confessing sin. Over the course of working with families for 20+ years, most kids will report they have never heard their parents apologize. This is a devastating reality among those of us who believe in the good news for sinners. For you who do apologize, know that God uses that significantly. Oh that our children would hear us pray… Lord, I have no margins in my life and I don’t know how to create them. Help me, please. Lord, we keep misunderstanding each other and losing patience with one another. Help us, please. Lord, as a family we live impulsively and have not been intentional about our times to connect. Help us, please. Lord, I feel flat and disengaged with Scripture, bored and uninterested. Help me, please. Lord, we have no idea how to think about upcoming college decisions. Help us, please. Lord, we are an anxious bunch and we have no idea how to find peace. Help us, please. Lord, I want prayer to be more organic and regular in my life. Help me, please. Lord, we can’t stop arguing with one another. Help us, please. Lord, my insecurities are so discouraging. Help me, please. Lord, I think about financial stability as if it is the only thing that will bring security. Help me, please. Lord, my loneliness is so isolating and I don’t know how to reach out. Help me, please. What if our kids, spouse, friends, parents, siblings, and co-workers heard us pray like this? What if we lived out the belief Paul lived declaring, “In my weakness HE is strong”? Scripture speaks of God as a wellspring, a tower, bread, water, and a redeemer. Our connection with him is the lifeblood of our freedom. He is the one who makes all things new. We are weary, we need a wellspring of healing, hope, and overcoming. Yet often he is the last one we consider. Certain months or years of life are especially challenging. This year has been that for me. I have become exhausted after many days of giving myself over to the wearisome way of trying harder, maximizing self-reliance, and ending up doing loops back to the same place where I began. I am learning there is a new way. A way of surrender and dependency. God is melting the frozen pieces of my heart. It is his work, not mine. Knowing his commitment, his keen insights into what I need, and his enduring love that covers the multitude of my sins, I find hope springing up from the ground underneath me. He is moving; he is reshaping me. As you begin a new year, as you allow yourself to feel the weight of life, let your mind consider those things that may be choking out your joy: What patterns are you drop-dead tired from? What toxic traits in you are pushing others away and resulting in lonely isolation? What tactics of self-sufficiency are keeping you from being in communion with God?
What habits are keeping you stuck? Meditate on this: He is a good Shepherd. A wellspring. He is safe and strong. He will overcome what you can’t handle anymore. Connection with God through prayer is not a quick solution, but his work is a changing force. Slowly but surely, you will experience a metamorphosis as you secure yourself in Jesus, the anchor for your sea-tossed soul.