Good morning, Ladies. Ready for the next level of our series on prayer? Bear with me on this one, because at first it isn't going to sound like praying in the traditional sense. But, then, one of your biggest issues with prayer (as I've gathered from your comments) is not getting distracted when you pray in that traditional sense. So, again, bear with me. Hopefully this will lead you further along on that labyrinth.
We've been talking about just chatting with God as you fold laundry or straighten your hair or swim laps. It's usually fairly easy to keep a conversation going when your hands are busy. This didn't occur to me when I was writing that post, but the best (and sometimes only!) talks I had with my mother were when she was washing and I was drying the dishes. Go figure.
But what happens when you're alone with somebody and you're just kind of there? Like riding in a car on a long drive or sitting in a doctor's office waiting room? It can get really awkward, especially if the other person isn't saying anything. I think that's often what happens when we try to have quiet time with God. It's not like God is keeping up a constant flow of conversation topics, at least for many of us. We end up doing most of the talking and half the time we're not even sure God is there.
But think about what happens when you and a friend or a bunch of your buds see a really great movie. You turn it off, gather around a pizza or pass out the sodas and you talk about it. Like, for hours. One of my favorite things in life is to go to the theatre or a good film with friends and then go out for coffee after and discuss our take on it. The same with reading the same book and then getting together to share our thoughts, or having a party and staying up with a few people after everyone else leaves and reviewing what a blast we had. Those conversations just take off because we're all focused on the same thing. My granddaughter can't put sentences together yet, but when we share an experience like the zoo or a boat ride, her vocabulary grows by five or six words. (Just so you know, at nineteen months she can say "elephant" and "meerkat". Just sayin' . . .)
The same thing happens when we have a focus in our time with God, and Scripture forms the perfect one. I'm going to give you an example, and I hope it (a) helps you with that whole labyrinth-state- of-sin-thing and (b) shows you how just about any passage from the Bible can be a conversation starter with God. It is, after all, God's, uh, word, so there's that.
Okay, the passage we're going to work with is Joshua 8:1-22. It's one of those stories I used to really have a problem with. God sends Joshua and the Israelites into these towns and has them kill everybody off and take over. Yeah, yeah, I know it was to establish his people in the Promised Land, but women and children? Really? That was before I realized that the meaning we're to get from such stories has more than one level. This one can take us someplace deeper than the massacre of entire civilizations.
As I was praying with this passage, it came to me that the town of Ai represents one of those obstacles between me and God -- that State of Sin we've been talking about. The obstacle has to be destroyed. I can't just live beside it and be influenced by it every day. So, Question #1 for you:
What's the biggest obstacle separating you from God right now? You might want to ask him what it is. Now there's a concept!
But God says to Joshua, don't go in there and just attack or that obstacle is going to attack back. How many times have you tried to knock that thing down that separates you from God and it just keeps bouncing back up? Will power isn't all it's cracked up to be. God tells Joshua he's going to have to be cunning.
How many times have you tried to knock that obstacle down by just saying you're going to? How many times have you failed to make that happen?
God tells Joshua to act like he and the army are going to attack, and when the people of Ai come out to fight, Joshua and his men are to flee. As in, turn tail and run. Obviously the Ai soldiers will come after them, leaving the city unprotected. The rest of Joshua's men are to then easily go in and take the city and burn it to the ground.
So what does that mean in our metaphor? That was the question I asked God in my conversation with him. This is what I got.
* You have to rely on God to show you how to defeat the obstacles that stand between you -- whether you're talking being strung out on a guy, feeling jealous because someone else is getting the roles, positions, whatever that you think you deserve more, or fearing the next big thing (going away to college, starting public school, etc.).
Have you actually asked God HOW to remove that obstacle?
* That usually involves flushing the obstacle out into the open, out of its hiding place. You pray for honesty instead of denial. For self-knowledge rather than blaming other people. For strength and courage instead of self-pity and whining. Then you can see it for what it really is. That guy is worth all this angst, really? Seriously, that leading role is more important than your integrity and friendships? You're going to let fear of failure hold you back from going where God has exciting experiences waiting for you?
If you bring that obstacle out into the open and look at it in the light, what does it really look like? Do you have the guts to really flush it out and look at it?
* Once it's out of hiding, you have the chance to go in and destroy the hiding place. That obstacle was concealing itself behind low self-esteem (y'know, like not accepting the fact that God LOVES you) or a skewed sense of what makes you valuable or the mistaken belief that everything is up to you. Praying for God to help you with THAT makes it impossible for that obstacle to return.
What's really behind that obstacle? Really, really.
* Meanwhile, the people of Ai who were chasing the Israelites found themselves surrounded by the soldiers who had just burned their city and the very people they were going after, who now turned on THEM. With that obstacle out in the open with no place to go, you can pick it off so easily. Self-hatred, jealousy, fear -- forget about it. Yet would you have thought of that on your own? It took a focus on what God has already said and a conversation about it that applies it to you and your situation. It took prayer.
What can you pray to God for help in surrounding that obstacle so it doesn't stand a chance?
So here's the deal. When you and God sit down to have quiet time together, a passage of Scripture becomes like a movie the two of you have just seen. You see it. You ask God questions about it. You go deeper to see if there's a metaphorical level. You ask God how it applies to your life. You respond emotionally -- "God, really, this isn't making any sense!" or " This whole passage ticks me off and I don't know why!" or "God, why am I about to cry after reading this?"
Suddenly you're in a conversation. You're open to answers which may come to you in unexpected ways. You're into it, while the rest of the world continues to do its thing for that half hour. But you re-enter the world changed in the tiniest way. All those tiny ways add up over time. Trust me -- I've had hundreds of those tiny times in my long life and they do change you. They do.
So what do you say we all try another passage, something you can focus on in a talk with God. Just read it, ask God for a deeper meaning than what's on the surface, see if it applies to you at all, and listen for what it tells you. It may tell you -- "this doesn't resonate with where you are right now" and that's okay. Sometimes what comes up in the Lectionary makes my eyes glaze over, and then six months later when it comes up again, I think, "Where has THIS been?"
Ready to give it a shot? Let's all read I Samuel 1:1-18. Have a conversation with God about it, just like we've done here, and share any insights you have. There are no right or wrong answers, and there is no ONE way to interpret this passage. Remember, we're going beneath the surface, so use it as a focus for you and God and see what happens. I personally can't wait for the results!
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