Today’s post is a response to the section in the book titled “Nurtured by Short Prayers”.
Where did I get the idea that I need to pray many words? I could try to blame the psalms, but until recently I’d never tried praying the psalms. It probably comes from all the emphasis on our need to pray more. In my mind, more means longer and that means more words. What is the objective of prayer, of all spiritual disciplines? Are all these things we do about understanding God or knowing God? I don’t think I’ll ever understand God any more than I’ll understand my wife. I work on both, but constantly discover that what I thought I knew I really didn’t and I’m surprised.
Understanding someone is a mind exercise. We listen and think and then we try something to confirm that we understood. Far too often our objective in understanding is control. If I just understood God I could get Him to do what I want Him to do. We know that doesn’t work, but we keep trying.
Knowing someone is a whole being exercise, we might even call it a heart exercise. It involves intentional time more than thought. This is the kind of prayer that Nouwen recommends for us. It is a prayer of very few words repeated constantly through the day that makes us aware of God’s presence. Nouwen describes this discipline this way as he describes the experience of repeating the words, “the Lord is my shepherd.”
The discipline is not directed toward coming to a deeper insight into what it means that God is called our Shepherd, but toward coming to the inner experience of God’s shepherding action in whatever we think say, or do. – The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen (page 65)
Understanding someone or something may not transform me. If my objective is control, then understanding will not change me. My goal is wrong. My goal is to understand the other, so that I can change her or him. I think knowing someone is different. Deep relationships transform us. Maybe that is why we resist intimacy and community. We really don’t want to change, to be transformed. This was the whole point of the blog post I recommended yesterday. The author contends that if we really knew Jesus, if we really experienced Him, then we would be wrecked. We would be transformed and the world would no longer understand us anymore than the world understood Him.
Jesus never asks us to understand Him.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4 ESV)
Instead, I think all of John 15 is about Jesus asking us to know Him. He is describing an intimate relationship that leads to knowing. Knowing we can do nothing and He can do everything. Knowing that Jesus desires what is best for us. Knowing the peace of His constant presence. Maybe we struggle with this concept because we are all imperfect people. All our relationships with other people are imperfect. There are times when I’m not easy to be around, when I’m uncomfortable to know. Unfortunately, we project our imperfect relationships on our relationship with Jesus. He is not like us, He is perfect.
What if your prayer today was simply, “Jesus, you are my shepherd.” What if you let Jesus’ perfection transform you?