Archives, Biography, Orlando, Pondering

Praying with Blocks

“Lord, it is like this…” What would our prayers be like if we were free to be honest with God? No flowery words, no undigested churchy images. Just honest. I’ve been teaching a course on intercessory prayer through the lenses of gospel stories where friends bring friends to Jesus. The father with a child writhing on the ground, who cries out “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” The syrophoenician mother who knew two things: the eating habits of household dogs, and that she was free to challenge Jesus. The centurion who never sees Jesus, but comes to know that he knows how to ask for what he needs. The latter story goes something like this: a centurion has a treasured servant who is very ill (Luke 7). 

Jewish elders may well have told the centurion of Jesus’ authority to teach and to heal and asked permission to go Jesus on his behalf. We aren’t really told the nature of that conversation between the elders and Jesus, only that they approach Jesus on behalf of their Gentile friend and plead for Jesus’ help on the basis of the kindness that this particular soldier has shown toward the Jews. But it seems that the centurion has second thoughts concerning what he has been told about Jesus. As he ponders the situation he is given the spiritual insight to comprehend two simultaneous realities: When Caesar issues a command in Rome, this centurion in the backwater of Galilee obeys and, in turn, exercises his own range authority in response.  So if Jesus really has spiritual authority, then, like Caesar, he doesn’t need physically to be in a place. He only needs to speak the word.

So another set of friends is dispatched before Jesus reaches the house, and the centurion’s faith continues to echo forth to our day: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul (my servant) shall be healed.” The centurion’s faith is awakened, as something he knew became something new.“ This is how it is, Lord. I don’t need you to come to my house. I just need you to exercise your authority.”

Yet, as beautiful as the centurion’s prayer is, I wonder if the lesson for us as we grow in our capacity to intercede for others in the hidden places is not so much to try to wear the mantle of the centurion’s faith, but, instead, to allow our own real life experience to be the springboard for our prayer. I believe P.T. Forsythe is really on target here: “Let prayer be concrete, actual, a direct product of life’s real experience. Pray as your actual self, not as some fancied saint. Let it be closely relevant to your real situation. Pray without ceasing in this sense. Pray without a break between your prayer and your life. Pray so that there is a real continuity between your prayer and your whole life” (P.T. Forsythe, The Soul of Prayer). Forsythe exhorts us to gather up the tangled netting of our real lives in prayer, not some imagined tangle-free webbing that we’re often tempted to lay before God—doctrinally correct but not personally connected. The man who struggled with faith regarding his son was completely honest with Jesus, as was that Gentile woman and this Roman soldier.

So here am I, sitting with my laptop in the midst of my immaculate “to be sold” home in the western suburbs of Chicago for a few days between the Okoboji Lakes Bible Conference in Iowa and the In the Kingdom Institute in Orlando. I have no idea where half of my favorite books are at the moment, and, most importantly, I have actually started to miss the rather continuous murmur of the TV that hums in the background of my “normal” life. If the television is on, there must be a husband or son near-by.

Lord, this is how it is. You have brought so many pieces together. It’s as though I am playing with large blocks with sides named “place,” “content” and “people.” I am loving the chance to explore which side goes where, and to receive as many blocks as you have given me to play with right now. But, Lord, I’m missing a foundational block. I long for the “place” that is not my wonderful retreat center, but home; I long for the “content” that is not rich conversation on the formation of faith, but the earthly conversations about groceries and feeding the dog that hold my feet close to the ground. And I miss the few people who inhabit my personal space. Jesus, I am so grateful for the new blocks—but would you please draw the details together so that this fundamental “home” block on which all the others lean can be set in its proper place?

My prayer may not be as existential as the man with a terribly distressed son, as witty as a courageous woman who knew Jesus must love the world, and certainly not as perceptive as a centurion who understood the nature of authority first hand. But it’s mine. It’s honest longing. And I am being refreshed in understanding that honesty before God is the springboard to our hidden petitions and intercessions. So tonight I pray with blocks. And the Lord hovers very near.

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