Sometimes I find it helpful to put myself in the shoes of other people to see how I would react to their circumstances. How would this thing make me feel if I were them? Would I react differently? Would I ask the same questions and feel the same emotions? If we do that with the first followers of Jesus, it’s super interesting.
There are times when I can relate to Andrew’s curiosity around God’s timing: “When will this happen Lord?” (Mark 13:30). I can see myself in Thomas’ doubting questions and the reality of his honesty (John 20:24). I can relate to good old gung-ho Peter, jumping out of the boat feeling like a hero and then sinking to zero within seconds (John 21:7). And I can certainly see the temptation he faced in comparing himself to his mate John: “What about him?” (John 21:21)
These guys walked with Jesus wherever he went. They saw him do the most miraculous things the world has EVER seen. They saw him raise the dead, touch people who were considered contagiously unclean, forgive the sins of prostitutes, feed 5000+ people with the leftovers from dinner, then do it again with a crowd of 4000. You’d think, after all this, the thing they would ask of him would be – “Show us how to walk on water Jesus!” “Show us how to get the crowds to follow us!” “Show us how to preach to thousands and see them all turn to you!” But instead they asked him, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” (Luke 11:1)
Somehow, the intimacy that Jesus has with the Father in prayer is more desirable than the miracles. They see that the power of God is motivated by the presence of prayer. They don’t want the crowd, they want the relationship. Jesus, like the great(est) leader that he is, models for his followers that he personally cannot sustain his very life on earth without being with the Father. Privately.
I’m sure you’ve heard about faith being more than a Sunday service. And if you haven’t, let me tell you now: it’s not just for Sundays! God has destined us for an intimacy with Him that we simply cannot get with another human being. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you’re growing in friendship with someone, just seeing them once a week with loads of other people isn’t going to quite cut it. Every day, one on one time is how we truly get to know God.
For me, this has been challenging to learn. I think I’ve always known I ‘should’ pray but, growing up, the reality of prayer on my own was at best determined but distracted and, at worst, a three minute “Bless me please Lord”. Sound familiar?
It changed for me when I was at university. During this time, which was branded as a party season with carefree nights of booze and eating super noodles at 4am, God taught me how to pray. Weird, huh?
I don’t know if you’ve ever suffered from anxiety but if you have you know how crippling it can be. Just before uni and over my years as a student, it was a real battle for me. I studied Drama, so you wouldn’t have been able to tell, but there were times that I couldn’t leave my flat, and my brown paper bag and water bottle were my constant companions. I remember going on a night out with my course mates and, afterwards, I lay in bed thinking about how the night was fun but not that fun. I had this deep yearning for life that was beyond what I had known and I just felt I had come to the end of myself. I was too tired, too bored of faking – I realised how much I needed God. I was struck by shame with how little I had spoken to Him in private but in that moment I knew I had to tell Him that I needed Him.
This is the motivation behind personal prayer that will keep us going throughout university, into the workplace, into family, or whatever life throws at us. We need God. And in the quiet place, we need to tell Him that. Culture tells us that showing our needs is weak but faith tells us that as we embrace our weakness, the strong one – Jesus – has room to move. This is the promise of God: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Often we want to ignore the things that cause us pain, the things that we are angry about. We want to be impressive and stable. But this place of insecurity and anxiety is actually where God wants to meet us. The beauty of God is that He doesn’t wait for us to be perfect to come to us; He embraces us in our mess and isn’t embarrassed or ashamed of our questions or doubts.
God IS reality. He can only meet us in reality, not where we wish reality was. And the beautiful thing is that He’s actually attracted to our need because it provides Him with an emptiness that He can fill. The big BUT is that we don’t believe that – we think it is the Christian’s goodness that attracts God because He says to us, “You’ve done well”. This is our worldly experience. But Jesus came to call sinners. It is not the healthy that need a doctor!
The good news is that we’re all sick! We all need to meet God. We all need to be honest with where we’re at and I would say that this kind of interaction with the Father in the truthful reality of life is best done privately. Once again, Jesus beautifully models to us the personal wrestle with reality as he pleads to his Heavenly Dad to “take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42) before he embraces the cross.
You can do this today! My biggest tip on personal prayer is just do it! God loves you and wants to meet with you. As we admit our need for God, the most beautiful exchange happens. We get given joy for our mourning, beauty for ashes, and praise instead of despair. And this can all happen in the quiet of our room? Sounds pretty good to me.
Pippa recently moved to Sheffield to be a part of ‘Mission Hub Sheffield’, a pioneering church-planting project undertaken within the Catholic diocese of Hallam. She is also a regular preacher and involved with the ‘One Hope Project’ worship collective.