I was raised in a church tradition that emphasized the intellectual aspect of faith. Emotions were scary and uncontrollable and we connected heart with emotions, so avoided discussion of the heart.
The dominating idea has been that everything can be understood and that what can be understood can be controlled. – The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen (page 57)
Nouwen contends that this emphasis on the mind and understanding leads to real frustration with prayer. We know we should pray more, remember “pray without ceasing”, but if prayer is just listening to myself talk then it is easy to find more important things to do. Besides, even when I understand prayer to be two-way communication with God, it doesn’t seem like God talks very much.
The words we use to talk about prayer should tell us something needs to change. Prayer is exhausting, difficult, frustrating, challenging, and time consuming. Which of those descriptions would motivate you to set your alarm and get out of bed early to spend time with God in prayer?
My wife wakes up slowly, while I wake up ready to talk. If I tried to have a conversation with her immediately after she woke up it would be very frustrating. I could talk all I wanted, but the best I could expect would be no response. More likely, there would be a negative response. God isn’t like this at all. He is always ready, but if my experiences with prayer have been neutral at best it is hard to get motivated to make this a regular practice.
I do know that the idea that Nouwen captures in the quote above has many issues. It is true that what we understand we can control and we love to control. I don’t want a God who can be understood, although I’d like a God that I can control. At least I think I would like that and I act like I would like that. What I really need is a very big God that I can’t understand and who is in complete control. I need to learn to trust this God and accept that He is in control even when things aren’t going my way. This isn’t about intellectual understanding. This is an issue of the heart, the will, and the core of who I am, submitting to God. Maybe my prayers should be more about an expression of that submission rather than a laundry list of requests.
How’s your prayer life? What could you do to improve it?
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV)