I know, it’s hard to believe, but there hasn’t been anything beautifully philosophical floating around in my brain of late, which is why you haven’t heard from me recently. I’ve been rather distracted by different problems here and there and somewhere in between. I saw this quote once that said “Now I know why Peter Pan didn’t want to grow up.” And it’s actually so true for the daily life at the moment. I’m tired of being an adult haha. But alas! Time stops for no man, and really, there a lot of unbelievably good things about life that we always seem to forget to look at, too. (That was totally a plug for my post “*happy little nothings” because I’m sly like that.)
A few weeks ago, Chapel sent me on a personal retreat for a few days. I lived in a convent. I slept peacefully and woke to Scriptures, devotionals, prayer, and the like. It was a wonderful respite, and I found myself in and out of the Psalms during those two days like never before. I feel like we all read the Psalms in pieces. We loveeeee Psalm 23, we hear the Psalms laced into age old hymns and know some of the more popular verses; for instance, the classic “you stitched me together in my mother’s womb” aka, every baby announcement ever. Nothing wrong with that, but when I sat down and read all 150 straight through, it was a totally different experience.
The Psalms aren’t just made of the feel goods, even though those become our indubitable favourites. It’s also made up of a lot of crush-my-enemies-teeth-through-their-skulls jargon as well, which really puts my elementary go-step-on-a-lego to shame. (Or does it? Legos are mighty weapons.) For every “God is slow to anger” there is an equally intense “Let your wrath burn down from the Heavens.” God is just, altogether good, and not without mercy. There are also a lot of authors who cry out to God desperately asking for his forgiveness, deliverance, or to hear Him speak.
The historical Psalms trace the history of the Hebrews (oo funny story I should tell you) from Egypt, where God is like “boom, here are some plagues and miracles, now let my people go,” to “Red Sea? what Red Sea? just walk right through it,” to “you don’t know where to go? here’s a pillar of clouds in the day and fire by night,” to “you’re hungry? here’s more manna than you could ever consume.” And the wholeeee time Israel is like, “Ya, God, woo!” and then they’re all “God? I don’t know a god, so let’s build an idol for kicks!” within like ten seconds of some other awesome miracle God provided for them. I was expressing my frustration to my friend, Dot, who was like, bam here’s the rebuke of a life time: “How can you be frustrated with Israel? You ARE Israel.” Oh well, when you put it like that.. Anyway that’s my summary of historical Psalms. Along with history, some other major themes include praise, repentance, gratitude, and the character of God (i.e. his faithfulness, power, and the like).
Funny story interlude: Last month I was trying to get my class twos to name the Disciples, and for the life of them they could not come up with the last two names, (who can blame 7 year olds for forgetting Bartholomew and Thaddeus) but every time I asked for another name this one little guy would say “Hebrews!” and so when they couldn’t remember the last two names, I told them they could make up their own name for them and I would teach them a trick to remembering them all in the next class. Completely predictably, when I asked “so what should we name the last disciple?” the kid piped up again with a very convicting “HEBREWS!” (The other was named “Princess” because the girls felt they should be represented haha.) Okay, funny story concluded.
Back to the Psalms.
There’s a lot to be said for learning how to communicate with God through the Psalms. They are prayerful, powerful, and praiseful. As I was reading through them, I was both stunned and humbled at just how often David or the other authors shamelessly sought after God and openly, and I mean there was nothing held back, emoted or confessed to him. They begged for his guidance, to hear him speak. They wept for mercy and forgiveness. They cried out against injustice, they burned with rage towards their enemies. Most Psalms go 0-100 within like, 3 verses. These guys were not joking around.
Something I noticed immediately upon working at Chapel and thus being exposed to Christianity here in Kenya, was their innate admiration for God expressed in each and every prayer. Let’s face it: we avoid praying out loud in North America like the plague. It’s this really awkward experience where we stumble over our words and I feel like most of the time we’re more concerned by what others think of our prayer than Whom we’re actually praying to. We start with “Dear God,” insert a plea, either for help, healing, protection, whatever, and then seal it off with a “in Jesus’ name” and we’re done with it as fast as possible. (I’m speaking generally here, and I’m not belittling our prayer style, or trying to insult you. Just hang with me.) But in my experience here in Nairobi, every prayer starts with praise. They tell God how great he is and thank him for who he is. It’s beautiful. Kenyans are humans too, though, and I’ve heard prayers that opened with robotic praise just as often as I’ve heard genuine praise. The difference is that it’s a habit either way for them – as it should be for all of us. When Jesus taught us how to pray it started with praise as well, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” To hallow is to honour.
The honest truth about prayer is that sometimes, or most of the times, depending on your life’s circumstances, we just don’t want to pray. Lord knows there was a year or two in there where I certainly had very little to say to him. But the Psalmists are perfect examples for us that in every situation, prayer is always the right choice.
Not like that should be any shock to us, right? Paul tells us to “pray consistently,” and it’s not like that’s the only time we’re told to keep in touch with God. Whenever I read the Gospels, I’m always struck by how often Jesus retreats to pray. “I’m too busy” is a common excuse for us modern types, but Jesus was a pretty busy dude, and he seemed to make it work.
All this prayer can start to make it feel like a chore, am I right? There are basically two chores in the Christian circles: praying and reading your bible. They aren’t supposed to be perceived as chores, but they can feel like it more often than not.. and no matter how many times our pastors tell us that those aren’t the end all-be alls to being a “good Christian” (and that’s like, another blog post entirely, so I won’t go there) we still tend to judge ourselves on our frequency, habits, or behaviour in those two departments. Either we do them lots (and become the Supermans of Christianity), or we try and fail (you go Glen Coco), or we just have given up altogether (*insert inspirational music here*). Both, sadly, have always been a struggle for me, because I’ve never been a particularly disciplined person. (I heard recently that we should try and have an attitude of devotion instead of discipline, which I thought was interesting, but then in the end, when I still couldn’t make them happen consistently, I felt like twice the failure because then I was not only undisciplined, but also undevoted. Not great for the morale. Albeit still an interesting concept.) I’m all over the map mentally, but that does’t change the fact that the bible says to pray, and it says to know God’s word. If I’m honest, I fear I’ll never be considered a “prayer warrior” because I struggle to stay focused for long when I pray. I have never found it difficult to sympathize with the disciples when they keep falling asleep in the garden, you know? Like that would totally be me. It comes in starts and stops and spurts of passion for me. Sometimes I pray earnestly, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m just giving lip service and I’d be ashamed to admit that, if I hadn’t heard so many of my fellow believers offer some quality lip service up alongside me.
So my question is, what changed? How have we, as believers, come from this rich past of poetry and beautiful, heartfelt cries to our Lord to essentially tweeting Christ when we need him?
Here are a few suggestions from humble old me to re-vamp your prayer walk. You can take them, laugh at them, scorn them, share them, I honestly don’t care. But I do hope they help. There is so much wealth to be found in a deep and personal prayer life. None of these are too revolutionary, but maybe they’ll get you thinking or hit a nerve somewhere along the way so that you can start working on this area in your relationship with Christ.
(my bedroom at the convent)
One) Stop talking. I think we all shy away from meditation because we picture the monks humming away and we either a) don’t think we can manage it or b) don’t want to be mistaken for a Buddhist. Meditation is a little weird, and it takes some practice, and I actually started meditating before I realized what I was doing haha. I stumbled across meditation because I made a royal mistake in my grade.. I think it was grade 10 year. I was so sorry that I kept trying to come up with words pretty enough to ask forgiveness when I finally, out of frustration, just shouted, “You know what God? You’re just gonna have to come take a look at how sorry I am cause I can’t seem to get it out.” And then I sat there and actively engaged the Holy Spirit in silence, but willingness to be seen. That is like the most obnoxious sentence I’ve ever written, but it’s the only way I can think of explaining it. And as a matter of fact, meditation is biblical. Check out Psalm 119.
Two) Read the Psalms and take some notes. You don’t need to read the whole book in a weekend, but try and work from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150 over a set period of time. You can read one a day, five a day, ten a day. Whatever you’re most comfortable with. But set a deadline, get it done, and I’m not kidding.. Take some clues from the pros.
Three) Pray a little bit at a time. Like I said earlier, my mind is going a million ways at any time. I can be really trying to pray or focus and one word will remind me of a book, which will remind me of that author, which oh remember that girl in second grade who had the same name, which leads to her 8th birthday party that I didn’t get invited to, and then I’m in party land and you can pretty much kiss my attention goodbye, because nothing gets my brain going like party planning. (That was a legitimate thought process just then. Always make your children invite their neighbours to their 8th birthday party, or the neighbours could potentially remain scarred for decades afterwards..) GOSH, SORRY. Prayer, right. Anyway, it’s better for me to pray throughout the day. All the little things make a big prayer in the end. I do try and carve out quiet times when I can and at least attempt to focus for as long as Maggie-ly possible. (I was gonna say humanly, but I think it might just be me.)
Four) Pray with other people. Gah this can be awkward. Like beeeyonnnd awkward in a lot of cases. Like you may try to avoid seeing them for weeks afterwards. However! If you’re praying with someone else it means you actually WILL pray. It’s a nice little accountability setup, and beside, practice makes perfect, right? Another bonus, once you get past all the awkward, either you’ll be even closer with that person, or you’ll have some real prayer material! (Dear Jesus, help me never to see that person again.. Amen.)
Five) Use scripture. The bible is pretty clear that all scripture is God breathed and infused. To argue this logically, when you’re in court, you need evidence. If you write an essay, your prof expects you to justify your thesis. If you are really pleading with God, why wouldn’t you remind him of his promises? If you’re at a loss for words, why not borrow some? Praying scripture can be truly powerful, and it can also be helpful, especially in scenario two, there, when you don’t know what to say.
Six) Admit to God that you’re trying.. and keep trying. My prayers are messy a lot of the times. Sometimes I start a prayer and don’t realize until 5 minutes later that I forgot to finish it. I take great comfort in the fact that God already knows, but I also like to just admit it outright, apologize, and try again. Have you ever had a friend that you could tell you were growing more and more distant from? In my experience, what makes the distance final is when neither party admits that the Grand Canyon seems to have taken up residence between the two. Just be honest with God, say it out loud.. And don’t be afraid to be a little exasperated or embarrassed, just don’t let those feelings convince you to give up.
I hope this inspires you to give the big man a shout today. As always,
as much love and as many blessings possible on you each.
(As you can see – the convent was a beautiful place to catch up with God. For more of my instagram photos from Kenya, check out maggiemackenzie17)